I had dinner last night with a group of my wife’s friends – mostly health workers of one flavour or another. One explained how she is involved with developing strategies by which the health system can cope with the demographic time bomb – when in twenty years time a considerable proportion of the population will be retired, and a significant proportion of those will require nursing care to varying degrees.
She then threw into the conversation the fact that a New Zealand university (that will remain nameless) has developed a robot that will attend to the needs of the elderly. Now that rather scared me. Growing old is hardly a pleasant thought as it is – with the chance of needing someone to attend to both ends of my digestive system in my later years – and I wouldn’t exactly feel inclined to let a robot do it.
But then, robots do a lot of things already. My car is pretty-well robot-built, and I trust that it’s not going to fall to pieces while driving up the motorway. I’ve been on many flights where the plane has taken itself successfully from A to B, with the pilot having to do precious little on the way. And the prospect of micro-robots carrying out surgery inside me is something that I find intruiging, not frightening. So maybe a robot nurse isn’t such a crazy thought.
That said, I remember the UK ‘Tomorrow’s World’ TV programme (it must have been about 25 years ago) which demonstrated a robot that could play snooker. It had cameras so it could see the positions of the balls, its computer knew the rules of snooker and could work out a good choice of shot to play, and its various motors could position its arm and move the cue accordingly. What did it do? From memory, it manouvered into position, waved the cue vaguely in the direction of the white, and stopped. Hmmm… Would I really trust a robot to attend to my bodily functions?