Peter Bromhead: Robotic servants

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

In Japan, when you move into a retirement home it is now common to acquire some sort of robotic pet companion.

Robot seals are popular, as are cats or dogs.

I understand such devices are of comfort to retirees facing Alzheimer's, particularly when personal help has become too much for working families to manage.

Like pilotless aerial weaponry, developing robots to assist the aged is rapidly turning into a serious business.

In the US, the New York Times reported, there will be 72.1 million Americans older than 65 by 2030 - double today's number.

There will not be enough helpers to care for elderly retirees, which suggests why robots will become increasingly popular in retirement homes.

As someone fast approaching the twilight zone, I've been checking what's there, in case the caregiver decides she's had enough of my cranky, dribbling mannerisms.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, they've developed a machine called Cody, a robotic nurse gentle enough to bathe elderly patients.

Sounds promising, although I'm not sure if I want to share a bath with a robot, unless it's Swedish, has a husky voice and long blonde hair.

Another model called Herb - short for "Home Exploring Robot Butler" - is already trained to clean a kitchen and carry utensils back and forth.

A British university has developed a robot that can remind you to take your pills, track your missing glasses and help you when you fall over.

Meanwhile, back in Palo Alto, another company has built a model programmed to administer prescription medicine.

Sooner or later all these achievements will be brought together in some sort of super-robot and become as common as mobile phones are today.

While many will view cyber servants as another dehumanising development, more dystopian than utopian, it's worth remembering we already take for granted robotic devices in our domestic lives, such as home laundries and dishwashers.

I'm relaxed about living with a robot in old age, as long as it's not programmed to nag me to put out the rubbish bin or pick up my socks off the bedroom floor and that it's now bath time - unless it's that Swedish model with the husky voice and long blonde hair.

- NZ Herald

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