Helen Martin: Robots are not caring entities

Paro, the robotic baby seal. Picture: Getty
Paro, the robotic baby seal. Picture: Getty
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THE looming challenge of a decreasing younger population facing the burden of caring for an increasing older population is one of the biggest social problems humanity has ever faced.

It was probably to be expected that the first solution – let’s hope it’s not the only one – would come from the world of technology.

And either it will make your skin crawl and your heart sink, or it will leave you gasping in awe and admiration at man’s inventiveness.

Meet Giraff, Ri-man, Paro and P37 565, each of whom may be one day soon replacing family members, friends and care assistants. In fact Giraff, a Swedish robot is already being trialled in the Western Isles.

Giraff is more of a communications device, a Skype on wheels through which humans can communicate with the elderly person without ­actually being there.

From that, to Paro, a fluffy, cuddly creation that is more of a companion, programmed to express emotions –to a certain degree.

In between are those with more potential to develop into carers, ­giving reminders about medicines, raising alarms and even fetching and carrying things and packing away groceries which, presumably, the same robot has previously ordered online.

Today these creations are intended not to take over elderly care but to stretch resources by making more efficient use of humans’ time, enabling the elderly to stay at home longer. But hey, we all know how easily this could develop into something more.

Why pay flesh and blood human care workers either in the community or in care homes when we can use circuit and chip robots that never go off duty and never tire?

Technically, their practical capabilities could be endless and financially, it’s certainly a solution. I can understand why the young, who feel so comfortable with technology themselves, might not see a problem with this. But for the elderly, or anyone within reach of owning their own bus pass, it is a nightmare scenario.

What about hand-holding, what about looking into another person’s eyes, what about the warmth of a ­reassuring cuddle?

What of the demented who may be easily confused, agitated and frightened and have forgotten even the scant latter knowledge they once had of modern technology? For them it would be akin to living in a horror film.

Hands up? I don’t have a solution either but I am sure this isn’t it.

There are some things technology just can’t deal with and there is nothing more humanly complex than the care of the elderly. Interpreting their wishes when they can no longer talk, identifying the roots of happiness, sadness and agitation, handling them gently so that frail skin doesn’t tear, providing company and comfort, conversation, compassion, dignity and respect – the list of things a robot cannot do goes on.

That may not be enough to stop this idea in its tracks. Come to think of it, isn’t there a similar shortage of affordable child care?

Andy’s legacy needs parents

IF we are to create a Scottish legacy of a new generation of champs from Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph by spending £6 million on opportunities for tennis, we will be making a major error if we focus entirely on the young.

Schools and centres can offer as much youth tennis as they like. Unless there’s a mum, dad, grand-dad or granny, aunt or uncle to join in, help practice, accompany, nurture and coach, transport, fund, support and praise, it will be another opportunity not followed up.

More tennis for all makes it a family game, where there’s always someone to play, someone to teach, someone to mentor. And that in the end, as the Murrays have proved, is – along with talent and determination – what makes someone shine.

Hague could be a Yes camp insider

FOR a while I forgot William Hague’s precocious teenage years and saw him as a statesman. Then in an effort to prove the rest of the world was “baffled” by Scotland’s independence referendum, he said outsiders envied “our stable, democratic government” – that’ll be the system which for over a decade returned the Tories, for whom Scots never voted. And he included “our institutions, legal systems, civil service, culture, language, history, sport and traditions”. Which? The world only knows about England’s. Most of the English only know about England’s.

That was round about the same time that he referred to Scottish ­Labour MP Cathy Jamieson as a

“stupid woman” for daring to question his involvement in sorting out the tax matters of a major donor to the Conservative Party.

Is he secretly working for the Yes campaign?

It’s not the first ever baby born

I DON’T want to be a killjoy, but I just don’t get this Kate’s baby madness thing that’s going on.

Giving birth is hardly rare. I have no urge to take a bet on the gender, weight, or time of arrival, or buy a commemorative mug.

Unless she gives birth to a Klingon, it’s hardly an “exciting” world event. She’s a healthy young woman having a baby. Get over it.

• LAST week I said the police should be more respectful to the public. That day Niddrie teenagers set fire to two police cars while the officers were attending an incident, so I take it back. Some folk don’t deserve any respect.