Robots in aged care: a dystopian future?

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In this paper I describe a future in which persons in advanced old age are cared for entirely by robots and suggest that this would be a dystopia, which we would be well advised to avoid if we can. Paying attention to the objective elements of welfare rather than to people’s happiness reveals the central importance of respect and recognition, which robots cannot provide, to the practice of aged care. A realistic appreciation of the current economics of the aged care sector suggests that the introduction of robots into an aged care setting will most likely threaten rather than enhance these goods. I argue that, as a result, robotics for aged care is likely to transform aged care in accordance with a trajectory that leads towards this dystopian future even when this is not the intention of the engineers involved. While an argument can be made for the use of robots in aged care where the people being cared for have chosen to allow robots in this role, I suggest that overemphasising this possibility risks rendering it a self-fulfilling prophecy, depriving those being cared for of valuable social recognition, and failing to provide respect for older persons by allowing the options available to them to be shaped by the design choices of others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-454
Number of pages10
JournalAI and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Aged care
  • Ethics
  • Robotics
  • Robots
  • Social robotics
  • Society

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