Alessandro Di Nuovo, Professor of Machine Intelligence, Sheffield Hallam University and Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Embodied Intelligence, University of Nottingham
The significant advances in the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence, particularly when embedded in robotic platforms, have potential to transform social care provision and address some of the current challenges.
This article briefly explores the opportunities that the integration of robotics and AI in social care offer to transform healthcare delivery, enhance individual autonomy, and improve quality of life. Careful attention must be given to ethical, social, and economic considerations to ensure the successful and responsible implementation of these technologies.
What is the role of robotics and AI in social care provision?
Traditional assistive devices and digital technologies often can’t accommodate diverse and changing user needs, leading to user abandonment. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms with smart sensors into robotic platforms offers potential for personalisation and adaptability. Learning and detecting changes in behaviour and the environment can enable informed decision-making and dynamic adjustments in care provision. The goal is to enhance responsiveness by anticipating and facilitating appropriate care in a timely manner.
It is important to emphasise that robotics and AI should not be viewed as substitutes for human caregivers. The human touch, empathy, and emotional support provided by caregivers are invaluable and irreplaceable. The ideal future lies in striking a balance that combines the strengths of intelligent robotics technologies with the compassionate care of humans, creating a holistic and person-centred social care system.
What opportunities and challenges exist in the current climate for robotics and AI in social care?
Robotics and AI technologies in social care have the potential to empower individuals, augment human caregivers, and address the shortage of healthcare professionals. For instance, robotic exoskeletons and powered wheelchairs assist individuals with mobility impairments, enhancing independence and quality of life.
IoT-enabled intelligent robots and wearables can collect and analyse data on vital signs, sleep patterns, and activity levels, providing diagnostic information and monitoring capabilities to healthcare professionals. Robotic devices that assist with physically demanding tasks can alleviate strain and reduce the risk of injuries for caregivers, but further research is required to determine the additional skills necessary for proficient use of these technologies.
However, deploying robotics and AI in social care comes with challenges. Ethical considerations such as dependency on technology, data ownership, privacy, and security must be addressed. Building trust and acceptance among caregivers and care recipients is crucial. Moreover, the cost of implementing and maintaining these technologies, ensuring sustainability, and managing potential job displacement or changes in roles are important factors to navigate. It is critical to provide appropriate training to prepare the future workforce for collaboration with these technologies and understand the impact on roles and relationships in the care setting.
What are the benefits for providers, the workforce, and people in receipt of care?
The potential benefit is to enhance independence and personalised care, while mitigating social disparities in future developments. Robotics and AI will bring us closer to realising virtual care and telehealth solutions where continuous high-quality care can be provided to a wider population. Providers can improve efficiency and increase capacity to serve a larger population. Our workforce will have opportunities for upskilling and new roles alongside these technologies.
How will this technology change the social care landscape and what do you think this will look like in 5-10 years and beyond?
These disruptive technologies will require significant transformations in health and social services, including care pathways, systemic and organisational changes in delivery, funding, and the integration of AI technologies for daily living support. Intelligent companions and assistive devices will become more common for self-management of long-term conditions. With advancements in regenerative medicine, gene therapy, AI, and smart sensing, there are promising prospects for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. While these technologies hold great opportunities in addressing current challenges faced by a resource-strained healthcare system, it is crucial to prioritise human dignity and support at times of vulnerability and frailty, ensuring they remain central to the care received.
Alessandro Di Nuovo is Professor of Machine Intelligence at Sheffield Hallam University and PI of the EPSRC project IMACTIVE: Intelligent Multimodal Assessment and Coaching Through Identification of Vulnerabilities in Older People
Praminda Caleb-Solly is Professor of Embodied Intelligence at the University of Nottingham and PI of the EPSRC project EMERGENCE Tackling Frailty: Facilitating the Emergence of Healthcare Robots from Labs into Service