Information Systems Integration – Messina

Robot Nurses Testing in Japan

robots photo

In Japan there are approximately 5,000 nursing homes that are testing robots as caretakers. With Japan being the best in class in advanced robotics and having such a large population of elderly in need of caretakers, it seems to make sense how they would find themselves coming to this solution. But is it a realistic solution when we consider applying systems thinking? Japan itself may have a culture that is infatuated with robots but other countries may not be as willing to have their elderly family members go into a nursing home being watched by a robot.

This idea of even trusting robots differs greatly between international cultures. In Japan, they have a deep rooted historical culture of animism – the belief that every object has a spirit including man made objects. Yet in America, we have a culture that involves religions such as Christianity implying the taboo nature of praising inanimate objects – idolatry. We also have traditional stories of creation killing creator such as Frankenstein. This in itself creates a barrier to penetrate many international markets.

Focusing on Japan alone, the market is extremely small being that these robots are extremely expensive. Even nursing homes and hospitals will barely be able to afford these robots. However, some of these companies are receiving aid from health insurance firms to help cover some costs of their products. With these products helping caretakers bend and lift residents, creating alerts with sensors when a resident is in need of the lavatory or is about to fall off of a bed, the usefulness of this technology is undeniable. Perhaps Japan is onto something and is entering a blue ocean market where they will lead in medical assisting robotics. Do you think they will be able to find ways to cut the costs and make these robots more accessible and affordable? How do you foresee them overcoming cultural barriers to enter international markets?


2 Responses to Robot Nurses Testing in Japan

  • Hi Andrew,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I definitely agree that there is a huge cultural barrier between Japan and other countries, especially western countries. As technology gets more advanced, so will AI, therefore I believe that sometime down the road robots would be used in nursing homes across the world. However, there are many problems that I can already see. First, these robots are still robots; they can’t provide customized personal care that an actual human can provide. We currently don’t have the AI technology to provide such detailed care for patients. Cost is another big issue. Unless there is a huge success, I don’t see these robot caretakers becoming mainstream anytime soon. However, as the technology gets more mature, it may eventually be cheaper to invest in them rather than hire personal caretakers. But this can take away job opportunities for many caretakers. As the world becomes more and more automated, the available job market narrows, and I believe it can cause a lot of economic problems. On the upside, I do see a lot of benefits of this technology. Robots can be maintained and programmed, meaning it’s highly unlikely that they would make mistakes. They are also able to handle heavy weights and not sustain injury, which is very beneficial when it comes to helping the elderly.

  • Andrew,
    I agree animism is a trait not found in many western nations. However, I think people are going to become more accustomed and comfortable with the presence of humanoid robots, whether they have a soul or not. Japan is experiencing a large population shrinkage, with less than a million births last year, the lowest recorded level of births since statistics began in 1899. The UN believes Japan’s population will decline by a third by 2100, from 127 million to 85 million. This aging population will be retiring, meaning fewer people will be in the workforce. With less and less care workers to help the growing senior population, Japan will either have to encourage foreign workers to immigrate to Japan or replace the deficit with humanoid caretakers. Considering Japan’s historically adversity to foreigners in their mostly homogenous society, I believe lots of capital will be invested in humanoid caretakers. This need to care for such a large population could help scale these robots, making them more affordable.

    The Japanese Population is Shrinking Faster than Every other Big Country

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