Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 3rd 2015 Contents A24
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Singapore s old people have never had it so good:
now, there s a robot to help them keep fit and
healthy. RoboCoach, their new best friend, offers
both encouragement and exercise tips. Its message
is unambiguous: get your exercise routines wrong,
and you put extra strain on the country s over-
stretched public finances.
As Singapore s minister for communication and
information put it, RoboCoach "is able to ensure
that old people perform the exercise routines correctly
so as to get maximum benefit from their workouts."
Free advice to Singaporean authorities: why not
couple RoboCoach 2.0 with a fancy wristband like
Pavlok, sending an electric shock every time its users
slack off and deviate from established objectives?
The Singaporean government sees robotics, sensors
and algorithms as one of the technological solutions
to the country s demographic crisis. Hence numerous
efforts to use technology to offer companionship,
coaching and health diagnostics. As the founder of
one such initiative---the eerily named Smart Homes
and Intelligent Neighbours to Enable Seniors (Shi-
neSeniors)---explained in a recent interview, there s
much to be learned from analysing older people s
toilet habits, sleep patterns and levels of social inter-
Singapore is not alone in using technology to deal
with its ageing population. Earlier this year, Japan
saw a new collaboration between IBM, Apple and
Japan Post, whereby the country will use the tech-
nology from the two American firms to keep the old
people entertained and analysed---remotely.
Likewise, IBM s Secure Living programme in Italy---
its website promises nothing less than a new vision
for "social security"---put sensors in the homes of
participants, so that their environment and behaviour
could be analysed and visualised on a dashboard in
a remote central control room.
China, too, has many similar projects in develop-
ment: Roby Mini, the latest addition, is a robot com-
panion for older people that can do voice and face
recognition, tell jokes, order groceries, report the air
quality and much more.
While such efforts aim to make the lives of old
people easier and more autonomous, some technology
companies are also trying to make those lives longer.
High-profile investors are happy to fund projects
that seek to defend against ageing and, perhaps, death
itself. Google has also launched its own anti-ageing
group, pouring millions into health-boosting devices.
But wouldn t it be ironic if technology companies,
keen to make our lives longer, also end up making
them more miserable? After all, could spending your
last years in the company of a seemingly funny robot
be as gratifying as technology companies claim? Or
is the rhetoric of technology and innovation once
again masking the inability---and, perhaps, the ultimate
collapse---of public institutions that were meant to
deliver care of the more humane variety?
IBM, for one, doesn t ever hide that its solutions
for old people s care are a crisis measure designed
to seem irresistible to cash-strapped communities.
While robots might one day make funnier jokes
than their human caretakers, it s clear that they do
not in any reasonable way care about the patients
they serve. And if they don t really care, why call it
"care" then? Why not call it a cost-efficient and
Prescription for loneliness...
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
Growing old the
Silicon Valley way
trouble-free bulk management of the elderly, for this
is what it really is?
As IBM puts it in of its brochures, its new smart
care is "on-demand" and "need-based." Alas, once
we let companies define what counts as "demand"
and "need," these two tend to get defined downwards.
Would a desire for human companionship even
be recognised as a need or merely written off as a
quixotic, romantic quirk of the bygone era?
The new welfare state built by Silicon Valley is not
built to advance the welfare of citizens---it s built to
freeride on the activities of citizens in order to advance
the welfare of corporations.
The citizens might, of course, get relatively useful
services but those pale in comparison to the benefits
harvested by technology companies, which, in addition
to the lucrative procurement contracts with govern-
ments and cities, also get to rip the
data generated by the users.
The not-so-remote past, where old
people could count on the company
and humour of human caretakers---
financed by their taxes---is to be com-
pletely forgotten. Instead, we are ush-
ered into a thoroughly dystopian future,
where corporations prolong our exis-
tence---it s so lonely and alienated that
it doesn t really deserve to be called
"life"---so that they harvest even more
data from our interactions with their
Or, as Silicon Valley puts it: "Ageing
has been solved."
(This is a shorter version of the
opinion column by Evgeny Morozov,
originally published in the UK
Guardian on October 24)
Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief with his robot butler in the film Robot And
Frank. PHOTO: SNAP STILLS/REX SHUTTERSTOCK
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