Tech companies want to commodify your old age; after all it’s a profitable time of life. Slow economic growth and the fact that we’re all living longer means that inexpensive, high-technology solutions to elderly care are big business. For example, RoboCoach:
It can’t fight crime or act as a butler but Robocoach is working with Singapore’s older citizens to help them stay healthy with regular exercise. The android with metal arms and a screen for a face is already leading sessions and will roll out its services to five “senior activity centres” across the city-state this year …
Then there’s RoboBear, a cartoon-faced android that can help lift a people from a bed into a wheelchair:
Another application is IBM’s Secure Living programme, being trialled in Italy:
Seniors’ homes are equipped with remote sensors to monitor the environment in real time, checking for changes in temperature or potential dangers such as water leaks or high levels of carbon monoxide. Data is transmitted and displayed on a dashboard in an off-site central control room, and on an assigned operator’s Android mobile device via e-mail, SMS or Twitter. When problems arise and immediate action is required, alerts are sent to family members, volunteer ‘angels,’ members of the Bolzano Social Services Department or local emergency staff …
Then in China we have Roby Mini:
The future of senior care in China may soon be represented by a 40-centimeter-high human-shaped robot with a large round screen. Roby Mini, which can record activity, order groceries and provide entertainment, has been specifically designed for use by elderly people, especially those who live alone.
Corporations have taken for granted that we want these innovations. Even in our old age the assumption is that we need to spend money on the acquisition of technology as the means to pleasure and satisfaction. Perhaps all the businesses involved should read Seneca’s Letter 12? This would be a better use of their time instead of harvesting data from living clients. In it he says:
Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline. And I myself believe that the period which stands, so to speak, on the edge of the roof, possesses pleasures of its own. Or else the very fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place of the pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out one’s appetites, and to have done with them!
By accepting that we age, we accept that our lives change and our desires diminish. Sophocles suggested:
When he had grown old and someone asked whether, despite his years, he could still make love to a woman, he replied, “I am very glad to have escaped from this, like a slave who has escaped from a mad and cruel master.
Towards the end of your life you take nothing for granted, even simple pleasures. The concern is any simple activity that might lead to lower profits will be forbidden. What happens if you want to read a book, instead of doing pre-programmed RoboCoach exercises? Will your robot master tell you that you can’t do it?
Welcome to the dismal future of old age where androids who feel nothing for the people they serve have replaced human love and care.