Just a short thought today. I recently finished a Technology & Ethics class on Coursera. It wasn’t very good and lacking any reason to do so, I didn’t bother to turn in the writing assignments, but I did research them. One final paper prompt asked us to imagine a scenario in which robotic caregivers were found to be a cost-effective solution for elderly care. It got me thinking about the ethics of using robots to replace people in low-paying jobs that require little education.
According to the most recent figures I could find, a home healthcare aide in the US does not require any college or even a high school diploma and earns a median salary around $20,000. Not a fortune, but the sort of pay that could put a two-income household into the middle class. It’s a difficult job that requires compassion. Could a robot do it someday? Probably. Is that the direction we should be going? I’m skeptical.
The scenario for my final paper was clearly hypothetical, but there is a school of thought that often sees robots as replacements for complete human jobs. I’d like to suggest that we change that mindset. Robots can be money-saving through other means than reduction of the labor force: improving efficiency and safety, extending human abilities, and doing precision tasks. Seeing them as augmentation rather than replacement seems more optimistic and human-friendly to me.