They help the disabled, entertain patients in hospitals, and support therapies for autistic children. However, from robots in healthcare, we expect much more than just manual help. We want ‘human’ touch. Humanoids augmented with social abilities should react to our emotions and create authentic relationships so we can trust them. What issues are there concerning this? Are there any possible dangers?
Can a robot meet emotional needs?
Even the best robotic doctor is not able to satisfy the patient’s emotional needs. For instance, robots do not have the capacity to show emotions, empathy or have the perception to respect the patient’s perspective. Unlike humans, it just follows protocols.
Although robots perform well on a production line, did you know that interaction, communication, support, and empathy are more significant when it comes to medical care? The social needs of the patient are one of the most significant needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. Furthermore, they are the most difficult to satisfy, as they are intangible and elusive, and they vary among people. While experiencing disease, all emotions present in a human being are brought to a boil. In this kind of situation, it is vital to provide understanding and help, not only provide a prescription or best treatment.
The ethics behind having a robot
Robots with social competencies will also have far-reaching consequences, affecting society, societal relationships, and the definition of a human being. For instance, intelligent machines that can recognize our feelings more precisely than another person seem terrifying but also fascinating. For example, the Japanese invention called Gatebox, which is a virtual friend in the form of a hologram, is able to do that. This personalized avatar remembers things about its owner better than the best partner. It is curious about how we spent our day, it asks us how we are, and it is happy when we come back from work. Some people consider it to be a sad invention, which reflects the dissolution of social bonds. For some people, it as a great innovation, which helps lonely people who are not able to establish real social connections.
However, I suppose now is not the time to ask questions, like what we mean by ‘we’? For example, is a companion of an ill child in the hospital in the form of the Huggable robot created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology a fraud or support in difficult moments? What is the definition of a true ‘human being’ in this case? Everyone values different things. Perhaps, a better way to approach this is to consider what we, collectively as a society, want to avoid. Perhaps I will address this in another article.
Lack of regulations could pose a threat
Robotics in healthcare is like walking on thin ice. The lack of regulations leads to uncertainty.
“The addiction to social validation and bursts of “likes,” for example, is destroying our real-life attention spans. Our brains are drawn to outrage and angry tweets, replacing democratic debate. During the last few years, access to technology’s godlike powers has increased dramatically, while the ancient, Paleolithic impulses of our brains have remained the same. What happens when we add the power of love in the box of godlike technologies and give it to 25-year-old nerds, backed up by venture capital? Algorithms are already able to read our emotions much better than we humans do, but as they do not possess consciousness, they won’t have the ability to feel. Empathic behavior will be based on synthetic empathy, which will become the most powerful tool developers have ever had access to. Before we all fall in love and enslave ourselves, we need a more open debate on how far we need to regulate this,” Bart de Witte points out.
Such projects are rarely funded in public healthcare systems. Therefore, for manufacturers, it is challenging to create a stable business model, so they focus on the private health sector. This poses the threat that only more affluent people will benefit from robots. Interestingly, many experts believe that the situation may be completely different. If the mass production of robots results in the fact that they are a cheaper labor force than people, poorer patients will be served by machines, and only wealthier patients will be served by human beings.