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Friday, September 14, 2012

IPONS 2012 Leeds: Dementia and Robots - SF and Isaac Asimov ruined me, what about you?

Just before I disappear for 11 days holiday...

In the 1970s I could go into (the old) Smiths in Wigan with £1 and buy three paperbacks. I built quite an SF library that includes Heinlin, Clarke, Smith, Aldiss, Van Vogt, and Asimov, all a bit musty now and boxed.

Robots featured in many of those old books and Issac Asimov in particular with his Three Laws of Robotics. As a result I've tended to take robots for granted, not just in fiction and film but health care too. Big mistake!

It's almost as if every decade we should watch Blade Runner again and reflect. Take our bearings, triangulating them with these other things-beings. ...

The demographic time bomb is proving quite an incentive for developments in leading edge robotics. 

One of the IPONS keynotes with Dr Susan Barnes and Dr Theodore Metzler presented Three Dialogues Concerning Robots in Elder Care.

We were introduced to general developments including Asimo, which I remember seeing on QI:

- and a specific nursing example:

Through their three dialogues ranging through the developments of artificial intelligence and consciousness, Drs Barnes and Metzler also introduced Paro a Therapeutic Robot, which is modeled after a baby harp seal. For many years dolls of various sorts have been used in residential and nursing homes to provide comfort for selected residents. This is an example of personalised care. I know because there are times when it has seemed not quite right. The paradox is that this arises not necessarily from the client's response to the doll, but sometimes that of the other residents. The response of relatives and visitors can also vary, especially when efforts are ongoing to find ways to help someone settle. Seeing - and hearing someone who is agitated is distressing for all.

Needless to say the keynote prompted many robot related questions. Are we deceiving people who are cognitively impaired? Is this a variation of covert administration of medicine? It was later afternoon 1500 hours or thereabouts, which had me thinking about the phenomena of sundowning. A time of day when some residents can feel they need to be elsewhere. Former responsibilities and roles come back to the fore with what can be chaotic results.

This excellent keynote also made me think about how care needs are matched to technologies. What is the ethical spectrum of telecare, of remote care, of robotics (surgical, locomotion, dementia care)?

A person living with dementia at home may benefit from have a robotic carer / assistant who can respond to the repetitive questions that often follow. A robot is not going to get frustrated, angry (Asimov's Laws?) by such behaviour, unless it were conscious?

On the other hand don't we need the frustration of a family member, a carer, a human to alert society at large to this local crisis - situation? What are the reporting capabilities of the robot system?

I realised many years ago the notion of windows of opportunity in terms of supporting independence - delivering care. There may be an optimum period in a person's health career to introduce day care, respite care, care at home, a robot ...?

Nursing (like me) needs to wake up.

The next twenty - thirty years are going to be a real challenge in all sorts of ways and for many reasons. Throughout that time and beyond a good dose of philosophical thought will be the order of the day. IPONS got me thinking anew: perhaps you too? The society are planning changes to the website, membership and journal options.

Back at month end.
P.S. ICN abstract submitted. Prospect of a public health presentation next month.

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