News  |  ,   |  January 18, 2018

Can Robots Tighten the Bolts on a Rickety Caregiver Sector?

By Nic Carey.
Published in Scientific American.

Robotic aides could relieve the burden of caring for a growing elderly and disabled population—if we can take advantage of technological advances without ignoring human needs.

In 2015 I was watching a dress rehearsal for a play about love, loss and aging. In a climactic scene, the lead actress gesticulated and shouted, while her co-star cowered before her—stuttering, repeating himself, faltering in the face of her tirade. It was a beautiful, humanizing moment, pulling the audience into his distress and confusion. But it was off-script, and this actor wasn’t supposed to improvise. We paused while an engineer tinkered with his programming.

The play was Spillikin by Jon Welch, a playwright known for tackling of-the-minute social issues in an unshrinking, bitterly comic style. Beyond its considerable theatrical merits, this production had the additional draw of starring a six-foot-tall android. Until recently I’d been employed as a robotics researcher at the company that supplied this humanoid…

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About the Author
Nic Carey is a roboticist and research engineer at the Designing Emergence Laboratory of Harvard University. She works on bio-inspired systems, collective behavior and robot ethics.