Thursday, September 7, 2017

Older persons, human rights and assistive and robotics technology

The inter-relations between technology, human rights and older persons is becoming more and more relevant and of importance. As the technological world recognizes the importance and relevance of the aging of societies, and as more and more technological developments are aimed at older persons - some ethical and social concerns are being raised as to the impact and challenges these developments produce.
I a recent report submitted by the UN Independent Expert on the Enjoyment  of Human Rights by Older Persons, Mrs. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the IE has addressed some of these issues.
As background ,the IE stresses how:
" technologies, including assistive devices, built-in environmental applications and robotics are gaining traction as cost-effective and efficient solutions to the increased need for individualized support for older persons. Such technology can perform simple, routine tasks, such as bringing meals and medications to patients, which will free up human staff who could dedicate themselves more to those elements or parts of care that require human interaction. As their development progresses, those robots begin taking on more and more medical or caregiving tasks and operate increasingly autonomously. For authority to shift from humans to algorithms, their performance only needs to exceed the average human performance."
The IE moves on to describe the legal and policy framework, and describes how:
"There is no specific reference to the right to assistive technology in the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the absence of a dedicated instrument on older persons and while not applicable to all older persons, the provisions in the recently adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offer some guidance as they recognize the importance of access to assistive technology."
Hence, she concludes that:
"It follows from the above that existing normative and policy frameworks have not explored the full potential of adequate and appropriate support that may allow older persons, in particular through assistive and robotics technology, to continue living in the place of their choice without restriction. There is no mention of the use of assistive technology in residential settings, and the few references that exist focus on medical technologies, failing to encompass the full range of devices that can assist older persons to fully participate in society on an equal basis with others."
In light of this background, the IE moves to discuss the ethical and legal implications of robotics and technology, and touches upon key aspects in this complicated field. For example, in the context of robotics v. human care, the IE states that:
Assistive technology cannot substitute for human care. The extent to which it is appropriate to rely on a machine instead of a human will, however vary, depending on the context, task and individual. Based on a human rights-based approach, support should be available as a means to expand opportunities and not as a method of maintenance. Assistive technology should enable human capabilities and enhance human dignity. This aim should be integrated from the conception to the application of assistive devices and robotics."
Undoubtedly, the dilemmas around technology, robotics and aging are going to be at the center of public debates in the coming year. Hence the IE report in this field is a timely and relevant document. See the full report:

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