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Should You Get A Robot For Your Grandparents? We Explore The Ethical Dilemma Of AI

An elderly resident is being cared for by a robot.
An elderly resident is being cared for by a robot.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

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We’ve all felt the ping of isolation these last several months as the novel coronavirus gripped the world and forced us to retreat indoors and keep to ourselves as much as possible. The pandemic has been particularly difficult and isolating for older Americans, as that population is at high risk of complications from the virus.

According to the New York Times, more than 40 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes. The high risk has forced relatives and friends to stay away from their beloved parents or grandparents, but it can lead to extreme loneliness for older adults. Some are turning to artificial intelligence, but there are complicated ethical questions to consider.

A recent Vox piece explores the various types of robots on the market geared toward easing loneliness and caretaking responsibilities for elderly adults. In addition to price, the robots range in how advanced they are and what tasks they can perform. This can be highly beneficial during a pandemic when isolation is necessary to slow the spread of a deadly virus, but worry about robots becoming the norm even once the pandemic subsides. If that’s the case, it could mean less human interaction, which was sometimes already hard to come by pre-covid. Today on AirTalk, we discuss the pros and cons of purchasing a robot for older relatives, the ethical questions at play and what the future might hold for AI in this context. We also want to hear from listeners. Would you purchase your parents or grandparents a robot? Or have you already purchased one? What are your considerations? Do you think there’s a fine line to walk when using AI for older loved ones? How do you think it would impact their life? Share your thoughts by calling 866-893-5722.


Sigal Samuel, staff writer at Vox where she writes about artificial intelligence and tech ethics, her latest piece is titled, “You can get a robot to keep your lonely grandparents company. Should you?” ; she tweets @SigalSamuel