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Robotics Japan

Japan's Elderly Nix Robot Helpers 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the sowing-seeds-of-distrust-for-the-inevitable-uprising dept.
SteeldrivingJon writes with this quote from a story at the BBC: "In Japan, robots are friendly helpers, not Terminators. So when they join the workforce, as they do often in factories, they are sometimes welcomed on their first day with Shinto religious ceremonies. But whether the sick and elderly will be as welcoming to robot-like tech in their homes is a question that now vexes a Japanese care industry that is struggling with a massive manpower shortage. Automated help in the home and hospitals, believe some, could be the answer. A rapidly aging first world is also paying close attention to Japan's dalliance with automated care. ... The country's biggest robot maker, Tmsuk, created a life-like one-meter tall robot six years ago, but has struggled to find interested clients. Costing a cool $100,000 a piece, a rental program was scrapped recently because of 'failing to meet demands of consumers' and putting off patients at hospitals. 'We want humans caring for us, not machines,' was one response."
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Japan's Elderly Nix Robot Helpers

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  • 1. many countries complain about the downside of immigration. but japan is one of the few countries that actually polices it obsessively, such that there is very little, and what little of it that there is, is strictly temporary and vigorously policed. as such, japan has a greying population and has to build robots, because they fear koreans or chinese or filipinos will somehow destroy their country. nonsense. there's nothing wrong with controlled immigration, but the japanese have a very weird hang up about it. still, considering their racial hang ups, you have to wonder what bothers the elderly more: a nonjapanese nurse or a robot?

    2. finally, there's this story:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/asia/28generation.html [nytimes.com]

    japan is a "grey democracy," a gerokelptocracy (made up word): the elderly hoarde the power in corporations and in society's rules such that the young can't get a foothold. young workers are underpaid and overworked in companies purposefully to support the perks for older dead wood in the company. such that many young japanese now just want to leave the country. this of course exacerbates japan's serious problem of a top heavy age distribution: who is going to pay for the care of all of the older japanese?

    so robots caring for the elderly might be a funny tech article, and us techies might think of the japanese trying to get robots in all these domestic situations as laudable. but its actually the sign of a social sickness. the whole subject matter really speaks of some very serious social problems japan has, that are only going to get worse, unless japan makes some difficult choices, and soon

  • Fair enough (Score:5, Interesting)

    by starfishsystems (834319) on Friday February 04, 2011 @01:46PM (#35105726) Homepage
    "We want humans caring for us, not machines"

    Fair enough. Health care is not a place for elaborate gimmicks.

    Of course we've developed all sorts of devices which improve health care. Thermometers, for example, take away subjective guesswork. Monitoring instruments allow effective and economical observation of acute-care patients, at least insofar as various simple measurable symptoms are concerned.

    All that is great. Bedside light switches are great, for that matter. And $100,000 goes a long way when buying equipment of that kind.

    Now consider a medical device whose substantial function is to look somewhat like a living being. This device does not provide care. Except in cases of fairly advanced dementia, nobody is fooled. Its monitoring ability, if any, is no better than existing devices. Very considerable work is needed to provide a suitable environment for a mobile robot.

    In short, it's a solution looking for a problem. I get that. I managed a robotics research lab for 12 years. We're always on the lookout for possible applications of our research. Sometimes we overreach ourselves. This seems to be one of those times.
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday February 04, 2011 @01:46PM (#35105728) Homepage

    so robots caring for the elderly might be a funny tech article, and us techies might think of the japanese trying to get robots in all these domestic situations as laudable. but its actually the sign of a social sickness. the whole subject matter really speaks of some very serious social problems japan has, that are only going to get worse, unless japan makes some difficult choices, and soon

    Only subtly different issues between the Japanese and say, the US. We both have an aging demographic. Given the entitlements both countries (and a host of others, I'm not sure anyone really has the answer) give to the elderly - and given the costs involved in taking care of the aged, we're both looking for some hurt. You can see this at any nursing home in the US. Virtually all of the careworkers are immigrants working at unsustainably low wage levels. A care attendant is never going to make a terribly healthy wage. It's above minimum wage to be sure, but there is very little room for advancement and it's essentially a physical job. As you get older, say in your late 50's or 60's it gets harder to lift and move the sedentary whales in your care.

    Much has been made about how this 'service industry' is going to be the economic lifeline since we've trashed everything below Stock Market manipulator and politician, but it doesn't really work for most folks.

    To put it into a more historical (as opposed to an hysterical) context - in the past (pre Medicare / Medicaid in the US), the elderly often died in poverty and it's attendant misery. You got sick and bam, you dead. Now, we take care of hugely complex chronically ill patients for decades in Medicaid / Medicare funded nursing homes. Funding for Medicaid nursing home patients is typically 30 - 50% of a state's Medicaid budget (Medicaid for those of an un USasian persuasion is a jointly state and Federal funded healthcare system for indigent / poor people. It has turned into a middle class nursing home entitlement since nobody, but nobody can afford nursing home care otherwise). In the upcoming years as budgets get stretched further, expect to see this issue played out in the US. We have a couple of options - continue funding nursing homes like we have, to the short term detriment of everyone else or change the social contract some how so we don't aggressively treat the elderly or more likely, just muddle on and make up everything as we go.

    And robots aren't going to help a bunch.

  • absolutely true. but while this is a serious problem in the usa (and other industrialized countries), in japan, it is THE defining social problem of this era. the "gerokleptocracy" is exacerbated in japan by a lack of immigration. the usa complains about mexican immigration and europe complains about muslim immigration, but in japan, the problem is no nurses for a top heavy society age-wise. it puts some perspective on american and european complaints about immigration

    if as a society you have fewer children and you live longer, you are going to have serious financial problems caring for your older generations. immigration is one way to ameliorate the problem, as japan better learn, and soon

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