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Japan's Elderly Nix Robot Helpers

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the sowing-seeds-of-distrust-for-the-inevitable-uprising dept.

Robotics 200

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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Tut Tut... (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105440)

Machineists. Believers in Carbon Superiority.

Re:Tut Tut... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105450)

What could go wrong? go wrong?

Re:Tut Tut... (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105482)

What could go wrong? go wrong?

Rôjin Z?

"No one messes with the Ministry of Public Welfare!"

Re:Tut Tut... (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106988)

Probably less than with humans. I heard that as malfunctioning as they may be, no robots has ever reacted to an incentive to break its orders.

Re:Tut Tut... (1)

camperslo (704715) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106646)

It's not surprising that the elderly want (human) companionship as much as a helper. Vendors would have more luck targeting sports fans and others that don't want to leave the sofa and t.v. long enough to get food or beer.

I guess the next generation would address yet another "need". Will children have nightmares of being chased around by a robo-toilet with arms?

Prepare for a future teabagger revolt over tax dollars funding robo-toilet-slaves for obese sports fans. Maybe if the robot is also a home security system and has weapons?? The NRA would back that.

Damn straight! (1)

nebaz (453974) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105470)

We want humans, not machines to care for us. Might make the pill a little easier to swallow if the machines were hot though.

Re:Damn straight! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105516)

Maybe, but it's not like we can all download copies of Lucy Liu [imdb.com]. ...yet.

Scary idea (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105984)

Dude, that's Japan we're talking about. Making it hot there would involve tentacles or invisible penises. Well, with the recent news about invisibly cloaks at least the latter might soon be feasible ;)

Nah, if they want to sell hot robots, they should cater to young horny nerds in the west. Some of us would have considered an Asimo with a fleshlight attached to be ultra-hot ;)

Re:Damn straight! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106386)

And the machine itself (preferably hot one) would always swallow.

Xenophobia... (3, Insightful)

babymac (312364) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105494)

Well, if you want humans to care for you, Japan, you just might have to accept people who don't speak or look Japanese. Get over your completely homogeneous society already!

Re:Xenophobia... (4, Funny)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105558)

Nah that's not the problem.

They just need to consume more fries and cola (and keep away from that grilled fish and green tea). Then they'd have fewer elderly :).

Surprisingly they smoke quite a lot and they're still not dropping dead quite fast enough for their economy.

Re:Xenophobia... (1)

camperslo (704715) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106774)

NHK has been running a series on the shifting demographics of Japan. The percentage of the population that is retired compared to that of working age has been rising. It leads to a shortage of workers (at least with the right skills), and fewer resources to help those that are retired. The problem is one that other countries including the U.S. need to look at also.

Using robots is very clever, but besides them not being a good substitute for human companionship, they're still way too expensive for consumer uses.

Re:Xenophobia... (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105578)

They might have to accept people that don't look Japanese, but speak? Seriously? I don't think it's too much to ask for the people caring for your elderly to be able to communicate with them without calling in the floor translator. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have to pantomime out what you need from the people who are being paid to care for you.

Re:Xenophobia... (1)

God'sDuck (837829) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105764)

They might have to accept people that don't look Japanese, but speak? Seriously? I don't think it's too much to ask for the people caring for your elderly to be able to communicate with them without calling in the floor translator. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have to pantomime out what you need from the people who are being paid to care for you.

Yeah, you'd want to speak the language before being promoted to direct patient care. But you can work to learn the language while doing the other 90% of the work -- cleaning toilets, doing laundry, delivering laundry, cooking, doing dishes, being the second set of hands for any patient care, changing light bulbs, driving the delivery vehicles, building the next nursing home...

Re:Xenophobia... (2)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106066)

<humor>Exactly, the solution to this problem is not robots, its Mexicans. </humor>

Re:Xenophobia... (1)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106984)

</humor>Exactly, the solution to this problem is not robots, its Mexicans. <humor>

Fixed that for you!

Re:Xenophobia... (4, Insightful)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105806)

Their problem is quickly becoming one of choosing a poison. The elderly vs middle aged vs young adults vs children gap in Japan is approaching critical. Most of the industrialized world is experiencing problems with an aging populace: the problem is less pronounced but existent in the US, noticeable in a lot of Europe, getting serious in other parts of Europe, and nearing critical in Japan. If the Japanese elderly don't want to cared for by robots, and they don't want to be cared for by non-Japanese (or non-Japanese speakers, let's face it Japanese is neither a commonly learned nor easy to learn second language) their remaining choices are getting thin.

It's simple math. If there aren't enough young people to care for the old people you either need to import more young people or find another solution. What that solution is I don't know, but robots were at least a legit attempt.

Re:Xenophobia... (2)

blind monkey 3 (773904) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106464)

It's simple math. If there aren't enough young people to care for the old people you either need to import more young people or find another solution. What that solution is I don't know, but robots were at least a legit attempt.

Soylent Green.

Re:Xenophobia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105878)

In Japan, if you look foreign then you speak English. "Because that's what gaijin do!" Even if you speak fluent Japanese.

Of course we're talking about the management and the gate keepers. The people ACTUALLY interacting with them wouldn't care but to the ones that hold the power there's always some sort of short-fall or inadequacy if your hair is blonde or your skin is brown or black.

Re:Xenophobia... (4, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105974)

It's important for workers to speak the local language not just to make things easier for their employers, but also so that they are aware of their rights.

When I moved to Finland a few years back, I initially despaired that even lowly jobs required a decent knowledge of Finnish, but when I reached relative proficiency in the language and started working in blue-collar part-time work to put myself through grad school, I was happy that I could understand the rights gained for me and my colleagues in collective bargaining between the union and my employer (every worker has these rights, even if they aren't a union member).

But an immigrant who doesn't speak the local language can be exploited mercilessly by his employers.

Re:Xenophobia... (0)

z3pp3h (1842070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105746)

If they want to be xenophobic, let them. Have you been personally slighted by this? And knowing someone who has been "wronged" doesn't count.

Re:Xenophobia... (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106200)

There is xenophobia and chauvinism in Japan, yes, but considering their density, I think they're right to be skeptical of immigration as a response to this need. Japan is a very crowded country.

There is, despite the "graying of Japan", an ongoing recession and widespread youth unemployment. What is needed is the creation of frameworks to produce jobs caring for the elderly. That's not an easy problem to solve.

Re:Xenophobia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106746)

Just send the old people to hawaii or something.

Re:Xenophobia... (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106504)

It's not about a homogeneous society. They can only choose from people already on the island, and can't import more. Japan's population density is amongst the highest in the world.

A robot is a slight improvement only because it would require less space than a normal person. Meaning, you could put it in a closet when not using it. Of course, even closets in Japan are at premium in some places.

Insurance (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105496)

Maybe they don't have Old Glory Robot Insurance [hulu.com].

Robots are strong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106104)

Yeah, they know that robots steal old people's medicine and eat it for fuel.
And when they grab you with their claws, you can't get break away because they're made out of metal and robots are strong.

I don't know why the scientists make them!

Old People (1)

Grapplebeam (1892878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105506)

Don't like new technology!? Wow, who would've thought. Except for everyone, ever. Duh.

Re:Old People (2)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106092)

The obvious thing to do is put robots in nurseries, daycare centers, kindergartens, primary school, etc. (with their staff going to elderly care)

Cut the price (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105526)

At something like $1000/unit, I bet these people would be singing a different tune.

Re:Cut the price (4, Funny)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105644)

At something like $1000/unit, I bet these people would be singing a different tune.

I dunno. I couldn't get my 78 year old Dad to use a FREE Roomba Robot Vacuum Cleaner or a FREE Tom Tom GPS. But he has 5 AOL accounts.

Old people and technology don't mix.

Re:Cut the price (2)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105704)

I dunno. I couldn't get my 78 year old Dad to use a FREE Roomba Robot Vacuum Cleaner or a FREE Tom Tom GPS. But he has 5 AOL accounts.

Someone bought the Roomba and GPS for him, so he doesn't appreciate their value.

AOL accounts are worthless, so their value is easy to appreciate

there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (5, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105536)

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

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (4, Insightful)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105692)

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.

Sounds similar enough to the United States. Here, the unemployment rate for age group 20-24 is more than twice that of the 50-54 year old crowd.(http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea13.htm) Even after they find jobs, they'll make far less money (adjusted for inflation) than their older counterparts made at the same age. Almost nobody in the younger group will ever have a job that offers a pension.

Things are chugging along well enough for most people here, but as the trend continues this will be a become a big problem and the legitimacy of the people who are pulling the levers will continue to decline.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (4, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105824)

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

You have it backwards with Europe (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107110)

Well, in Europe that are complaining about immigration are the ones which have decent fertility rates. (e.g. Britain, France, Germany; Italy is exception) While in Eastern-Europe the fertility is around 1.3 and people are pretty neutral towards immigration, but nobody wants to come anyway, because of lower wages.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (2)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105826)

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.

Sounds similar enough to the United States. Here, the unemployment rate for age group 20-24 is more than twice that of the 50-54 year old crowd.(http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea13.htm) Even after they find jobs, they'll make far less money (adjusted for inflation) than their older counterparts made at the same age. Almost nobody in the younger group will ever have a job that offers a pension.

Mmmm... Almost nobody in the US today who has a non-union job has a pension. It's all 401Ks and IRAs.

Things are chugging along well enough for most people here, but as the trend continues this will be a become a big problem

Yes.

and the legitimacy of the people who are pulling the levers will continue to decline.

Huh? In the US, the lever pullers are elected. Love them or hate them, they are just as legitimate as the citizens who vote for them.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (4, Insightful)

BZ (40346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105996)

> In the US, the lever pullers are elected.

No, they're not. Figureheads are elected. The lever pullers are for the most part the career bureaucrats and the lobbyists.

The last time we had an elected official seriously trying to change how the bureaucracy worked his name was Joe McCarthy. No one particularly enjoyed that, so no one has tried since.

Joe McCarthy?! (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106162)

the smearmongering communist witch hunter?

please don't tell me you hold this man up as an example of anything except as a very dangerous demagogue

of course the corporate corruption of our democracy needs to be changed. but it will be a cold day in hell before you convince anyone joe mccarthy is an example of anything except an asshole

although, it is an interesting sign to me that his name should come up again. we are currently suffering a political movement in this country that doubts the president was born in hawaii and is a "secret muslim." classic joe mccarthy style smearmongering. and then there's that bill ayers guilt-by-association. heck if it works, bring back old joe as a hero, right?

"have you sir ever associated with any member of the communist party." lol old joe! yes, it makes sense now. bringing back 1950s style fear and hysteria. learning from the best, i guess. thanks, right wing assholes

Re:Joe McCarthy?! (1, Insightful)

BZ (40346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106392)

> the smearmongering communist witch hunter?

Yep. That guy.

> a very dangerous demagogue

Yes, indeed. Though at this point you rather have to be to get elected. I mean... Our current president sure did the whole "arousing the emotions and passions" thing that my dictionary uses as the definition of a demagogue, mostly about Change. Our previous president, same thing about an Axis of Evil.

> joe mccarthy is an example of anything except an asshole

Being an asshole is not mutually incompatible with being other things (for example, the guy was also a Senator; this is a common juxtaposition, actually). In this case, he was a crusading asshole, which is why he had the guts to try to do something as daft as taking on the bureaucracy to start with.

In case it wasn't clear, I think McCarthy's methods were unaccetable (even if some of his suspicions were correct). But the point is, there are no acceptable methods that elected officials have today for controlling the bureaucracy. They're in the position of a manager who can't hire and fire employees and who has a small clique of employees who were there before he arrived and will be there after he leaves reporting to him... and controlling all of his access to information, as well as getting to interpret any directions he gives. If they don't do what he tells them to, he has no recourse. That's assuming he even finds out about it, which is doubtful.

Now the problem is that before we had our current setup, the bureaucracy _was_ accountable to elected figures. We called it the spoils system. It was, unfortunately, even worse than what we have now.

Re:Joe McCarthy?! (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107004)

yes, small government, cut the dead wood

but you still insist on talking about joe mccarthy in a positive light. i don't understand this in the least. hitler built the autobahn but i'm not going to laud him for civil engineering accomplishments. by the same token, you're not being responsible if you continue to talk about senator joe mccarthy as anything but a dangerous vile figure. he destroyed careers and lives because they "associated" with communists, whatever that means. he used fear and hysteria. this is a demagogue. this is a figure you should have nothing but contempt for, because such "leaders" are our road to ruin

Re:Joe McCarthy?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35107000)

It takes a special kind of stupid to read the grandparent post and think that it was praising McCarthy.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106484)

It's not something self-contained though; while not exactly elected, it gets perpetrated by society. "It's not corruption if I can do it"

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

BZ (40346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106650)

Who said anything about corruption?

I'm not talking about corruption. I'm talking about the fact that the bureaucracy has its own goals (not even necessarily consciously) which have little to do with those of the elected officials nominally in charge of it, much less those of the electorate, and that there's not much that elected officials can do about it.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106724)

Of course - I just used this saying as a shortcut for, it turns out, partially disagreeing that the bureaucracy has little to do with the electorate (maybe not stated goals, sure ... but they are not so relevant in the first place IMHO)

From where those people and their values come from? System of governance is also a reflection of society.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

BZ (40346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106858)

> From where those people and their values come from?

From certain demographics within the electorate. It's very much not a representative sample in terms of things like education, political leanings, income, personality (note that some of these things correlate with each other, though).

It would be _very_ odd if it were, honestly.

Also, US society is highly nonhomogeneous in terms of values. The bureaucracy is much less so. Again, it would be odd if that were not the case.

I'll agree that a system of governance is a reflection of part of society. Whichever part happens to hold power. That's more or less a tautology, though. ;)

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106998)

It's really not so simple IMHO (that would be suspiciously close to "us" vs. "them"...); it's relatively hard to find somebody (out of random selection) who would refuse perks, if given the chance.

Or, look at other areas: for example a family depending on the income of somebody in the military, and extended family of that one ... sure, many of them might even realize the BS of "9/11 & Iraq" ... but the military member of question is of course a distinguished, honorable man.
Or family of some engineer or even blue collar worker - I'm sure many of them are quick to point out horrible pork and waste of gov spending in many areas... except if its a product related to said worker. Then the service is essential, and the price fair.
How many things can be cherished, appreciated, if we are part of them ... how many start to be if we become part of them, without any specific background.

And that's just one of the simplest aspects; present also in the bureaucracy. Symptomatic, overall (and I can say it even despite being in a place formerly behind Iron Curtain - it cracks me up when people forget how many millions of them were in the Party ... and how, even better, virtually all its members were closet Catholics / there isn't any phenomena of "unbaptized generation" (even if the baptism was in some small church in the country))

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (0)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106906)

You do realize that a significant portion of 20-24 year olds are unemployed because they go to school, right? Yours isn't exactly an apples to apples comparison.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (3, Informative)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107048)

You do realize that a significant portion of 20-24 year olds are unemployed because they go to school, right? Yours isn't exactly an apples to apples comparison.

Students and others who aren't looking for full-time work aren't counted as part of the labor force, so they don't weigh in the unemployment rate. It's a valid comparison.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (0)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105720)

The Japanese government started giving people generous benefits (like 12 months paid leave) to get pregnant and have kids. BUT producing more humans on an already-overpopulated planet is not the solution.

In fact in the long-term Japan is probably better-off with fewer babies being born. In the short term it causes healthcare shortages but in the long term (20-30 years) the problem will pass-away

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (2)

vakuona (788200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105784)

Um, no. The solution is to manage the population down gently. Japan is pretty much falling off a cliff population wise. That is not a good thing because the population becomes too imbalanced. You cannot have too many older, non productive needing care without creating serious problems. It would be all "good" if people were perfectly healthy and productive until they were aged 90, then just dropped dead. However, people become a net drain on society at some point, and it's usually OK if there are more than enough young workers to do their bit, and help the elderly, and have an overall positive outcome. But a population drop like the one Japan will face is pretty catastrophic, and has so many really bad implications.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105986)

>>>The solution is to manage the population down gently.

How?

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

Applekid (993327) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106084)

Government sponsored skydiving? Free hookers and cocaine? Euthanasia bounties paid to your family?

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106134)

I believe its Singapore that offers incentives for young women to pursue careers when they want to slow population growth, and offers incentives for women to stay home when they want to speed up population growth. I understand that its been going back-n-forth as needed for a while now.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106170)

Don't bother "arguing" with him, he's just going to say some shit like "THEY SHOULD LET THE FREE MARKET HANDLE IT THE PROBLEM WILL SOLVE ITSELF!!!". Doing so is just wasting your time.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (3, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105728)

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.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (2)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105780)

>>>move the sedentary whales in your care.

If I had to care for a heavy person, I'd put them on a mandatory diet until they dropped to a reasonable level (like 120-140 pounds) that I could lift. IN fact - at that point most people would probably be able to lift themselves and not need so much help (other than balance-assistance).

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (2)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106534)

The elderly Japanese have the deepest pockets on earth. Japan has the highest savings of almost any country, and most Japanese, particularly elderly, are frugal. Did I mention they are very self-sufficient, grounded, and family oriented, too. Compared to nomadic Americans who retire as strangers to their communities, the elderly Japanese look secure. Of course, that is changing, and there is no telling what will happen when their young grow old and poor. Uh, I guess there is inheritance. Then maybe their youngs' young. Oh, the youth are not having kids? Then I guess Korea will inherit Japan.

Re:there's a deeper backstory here. 2 things: (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106868)

Isn't that how their presently dominating social group arrived on the islands, anyway?

Obvious (to me) solution (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105590)

don't make robots, make exo-suits that allow them to care for themselves

tell'm to strap on a articulated bodysuit that lets twingy muscles amplify goals?

damn, wire me up when I can get outta bed, and I'll get myself out...

I'd much rather have a prosthesis running down my arm and wipe my own ass, than a robot that carries me to the toilet and wipes for me.

Re:Obvious (to me) solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105652)

And amplify all the shakes, and overreactions? Time to get into general contracting and home repair.

Re:Obvious (to me) solution (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105654)

That's actually really dangerous if you have a condition like osteoporosis, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, etc... Which of course, elderly commonly get.

Re:Obvious (to me) solution (1)

gorzek (647352) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106238)

That just means the exosuit should be wired directly to the brain, bypassing all those silly, fallible muscles!

Just practice with a hot dog first or you'll rip your dick off.

Pretty much an in-home 24-7 horror movie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105686)

Oh, come on who wouldn't want a Japanese robot helper

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glUnzzoFUxg
or
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE2VCwYDjx0
or
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLXGS0J52co
or
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ6v3erZjGE

Fair enough (4, Interesting)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105726)

"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.

Re:Fair enough (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105836)

What we want is for a human being to care about us when we're sick. The methodology of the medicine is beside the point. We'd be only too happy to be hooked up to a box that took the samplesand calculated the dosage and pumped the drugs. But when you're stuck in a hospital, knowing that your chance of dying today is much higher than yesterday, and the only "caregiver" you see from your bed is a meter-tall animatron who shambles in every few hours to pat your mattress, your emotional state suffers.

My personal favorite is hot nurses with a little happy-hour on their breath. But that's anecdotal so it might not be true for everyone.

Re:Fair enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106062)

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.

Amen, brother.

Re:Fair enough (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106262)

Some random felis catus to the rescue? (I'm not sure if such one [bbc.co.uk] is a bad or good thing...)

Not much more than for comfort of course - though sometimes I do wonder how quick the result could be with a breeding program aimed for intelligence and gripping paws ;) (given less than a year for a generation...)

No worries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105730)

All they need is to get some good robot insurance and they'll be fine.

more gov.speak; condemn in the strongest terms = (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105776)

we caused the problem/we're not DOing anything/damned internet.

Said simply... (2)

astern (1823792) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105792)

DUH... OF COURSE?

Japanese society can come up with great ideas, but a lot of times major ideas are not thought through all the way. This was one of those ideas, it was innovation for innovations sake and didn't really solve the problem of too many seniors and not enough facilities to take care of them. I mean, how much human care could $100,000 have provided to an entire senior center? Economically it didn't even make sense.

A basic tenant of human care is the human interaction part of it. People (yes, we're talking about people here! Seniors are still people!) still need human interaction and care that no robotic platform will ever provide. Full stop. Never.

Re:Said simply... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106192)

You put it to strongly - what if those people were to be raised by robots in the first place? ;p (remember experiments with bonding newborn monkeys to an appropriate puppet?)

Too many people do want to put the elderly aside though, yes. They are too unsightly, I guess.

They're going about this backwards (3, Insightful)

Aqualung812 (959532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105796)

Use the robots to free up staff, let the human staff take care of the elderly. Have more automation in test results, checking on patients that are unconscious, filling meds, etc.

I'm sure their is a list of things the people in the hospitals hate to do that are boring, repeatable, and don't involve a patient directly. Put the robots there.

Re:They're going about this backwards (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105936)

Use the robots to free up staff, let the human staff take care of the elderly. Have more automation in test results, checking on patients that are unconscious, filling meds, etc.

But if they did something MUNDANE with them like that, the Nippophiles in the US wouldn't drool over how "awesome" and "advanced" Japan is (just like in their favorite animes and mangas!), and THEN where would their entire export economy go?

(note: yes, I'm kidding, I know they have more of an export economy than that)

Allow immigration? (1)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105916)

Perhaps it might be cheaper to allow care workers from neighbouring countries? Something like the American H1B1 programme, but for care workers?

--jch

Jeez, didn't they ever watch ROUJIN-Z? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105930)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH4K3OkRqL8

The current technology is too poor (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35105938)

Mobile robots just aren't very good yet. But progress, after decades of frustration, is now rapid. Willow Garage [willowgarage.com] is making real progress. Their mobile robot can already fold towels, starting from a pile of randomly placed towels. When it can change a bed, they'll have something useful.

My guess is that the killer app for this will be a mobile robot for hotels that can clean a room and reset it for the next occupant. Give this ten years.

Re:The current technology is too poor (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106142)

For capability - yeah,10 years sounds more than enough.

For price per effect, in comparison with humans... ugh.

Re:The current technology is too poor (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106968)

For price per effect, in comparison with humans... ugh.

Assuming five times parts cost for the price it would be reasonble to have $10k worth of parts for a $50k unit. For something that just cleans hotel rooms I don't think that's unreasonable, assuming a modest level of supervision, say one human in charge of all the robots in the building. Assuming your hotel staff are costing you $10/hr all-in (not unreasonable for near-minimum-wage LEGAL workers) and working 1000 hours a year, if a robot could replace just one of them it would pay for itself within a decade, even including maintenace.

This seems like an extremely do-able project, given a relatively modest development budget. Ideally you'd need a major hotel chain to sponsor it, as the field trials would be exciting, and the liability issues more than anything else will likely be the major impediment to adoption--you'd certainly have to have realtime video capture from these units to avoid spurious claims from guests that they had been run into and so on.

In the US (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35105942)

If this were in the US, our president Obama would know how to handle this. He would make it a requirement that every citizen will pay $700 per month for robot care, or they would be sent to prison. His croneys in congress would vote in the bill, without ever bothering to read any of it. When it is discovered to be unconstitutional, he would proceed with implementing anyway. And his friends in the unions would be allowed to opt out if they want. The press would applaud him for his wonderous plan, while they ponder why a large number of small businesses are shutting down with complaints of too many taxes. "It's not a tax," they explain, so it isn't a problem, because we love Obama Robot Care.

Yea Obama!

Not there yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106120)

Robot tech has not reached the point to where it can provide any real assistance to the elderly. Right now, it is just an expensive toy. We need a number of breakthroughs in AI for this to work as unsupervised aid to the elderly.

Well (1)

faust2097 (137829) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106138)

They could always lift the xenophobic near-total ban on foreigners working in their country but that would be preposterous!

Re:Well (1)

wsxyz (543068) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106268)

They could always lift the xenophobic near-total ban on foreigners working in their country but that would be preposterous!

Why should they? The Japanese people have a right to maintain their culture free from outside corruption to whatever degree they desire. How utterly sad it would be (almost certainly will be) when the entire world is just one big lowest common denominator average of everything that came before. Just think how many unique customs, words, ways of thinking, talking, creating, and living will be lost forever.

Re:Well (2)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107006)

outside corruption

There's your problem. You are reifying a homogenous, intollerant, ethno-racist culture and saying that it will be "corrupted" by external influences, as opposed to "diluted" or "enhanced". You've simply assumed without argument that the homogenous, xenophobic culture of Japan is superior to everything outside it, by some standard. I am left wondering what that standard is.

I have no doubt that local cultures will persist despite homogenization. I come from a nation of mongrels, and we are still quite distinct, even from our neighbours to the south. Don't underestimate the robustness of local cultures, or the weakness of cultures that have to close themselves off from "corrupting" outside influences to maintain themselves.

Re:Well (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107036)

I don't disagree. Just which european and north american countries could do that too without being called racist and dropping discrimination laws all over the place.

Too limited (2)

Necron69 (35644) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106194)

The current state of the art in robotics is far too limited. If they could build a robot that could cook, clean, do laundry/dishes, and help you get dressed, I'm sure they would be more popular.

Think of the Will Smith movie version of "I, Robot" where the robot cooks an apple pie from scratch. That's what you need.

Necron69

Re:Too limited (1)

byner (1428013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106470)

Think of the Will Smith movie version of "I, Robot" where the robot cooks an apple pie from scratch.

Did it first create the universe?

Put the patient in control (1)

TomRC (231027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35106368)

Besides the obvious price and limited capabilities issues, I think where they fell down was in treating patients as objects to be "taken care of".

They needed to put the patient in control.

The robotic wheelchair/bed in the article will likely be much more popular, as it enables patients to do things for themselves. But reaching things with it might be difficult - perhaps it needs to be designed to bundle up the patient so it can hold them vertically, as if standing, so they can get closer to tables and counters and such. In effect, make a giant mobile hand and arm that can gently grab the person and move them around as they direct, instead of a mobile bed.

Wrong market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106638)

The right market for human-like robots, right now, is in interactive sex dolls.

Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106846)

Just imagine being helped by a robot in a hospital. It would be fucking awesome. Robot companies: please, please, please don't give up!

The Western Model: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35106908)

Listen Koji, just go and import a lot of third world cheap labor in the form of Jose, Juan, Ravinder, Jagdish, ... Problem solved!!! .....
Hey Koji, I'm talking here...

The Songs of Ibis (1)

John Whitley (6067) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107012)

Hiroshi Yamamoto covers this exact topic in one of the short stories in The Songs of Ibis [amazon.com]. The angle there is the introduction of the first past-the-uncanny-valley android robot for nursing the elderly. Yamamoto takes on many of the particular challenges of working with the elderly (and with an aging population). The stories generally have a lovely classic sci-fi feel, using fiction to simultaneously explore new worlds and topical subject matter. It's also pretty darn near Clarke's definition of 'hard' sci-fi (and comp-sci-fi!) while remaining thoroughly enjoyable.

If they don't like immigrants, why not reverse it? (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 3 years ago | (#35107078)

Surely there must be some stable country with a young workforce that wouldn't mind caring for elderly Japanese?

What local government official wouldn't lick their chops at the prospect of a bunch of people with pensions guaranteed by a government, creating service and construction jobs nearby?

There are many Japanese already living in California, and a glut of real estate in certain areas--particulary the "Inland Empire". Even some parts of the Bay Area are in trouble, although some of them are virtually irredemable due to the presence of heavy industry over a seismic zone.

This is just one small example. I bet other parts of the US, and other countries would have suitable accomodations.

The last great Japanese export could be elderly people with streams of pension income.

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