Public Distribution of Robots


ElliQ is a companion robot for elderly people.  New York State is paying for the distribution of 800 of these robots by the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). 14 million elderly Americans live alone, and loneliness is increasingly recognized as a health issue.

ElliQ’s website describes the device as “the sidekick for healthier, happier aging.” It looks a lot like a lamp, and is designed to provide small talk, music, jokes, and weather reports. It also encourages users to develop healthy habits like exercise and stress reduction activities. The company says that the average user has 20 engagements per day with ElliQ.

Users can make video calls to family and can send messages or emergency alerts. The device is similar to Alexa or to a Portal, but it’s designed to be very easy to use, even for people who are not tech-savvy.

Robots for elder care

NYSOFA provides a lot of services to older New Yorkers, and many of them focus on the problem of social isolation. Staffers will identify individuals who are most likely to benefit from the companion robots. The devices will be distributed to those individuals along with meal delivery and other services.

The use of robots for elder care is increasing, especially in nations with aging populations. There are ethical questions about this use of robots. Will elder care robots encourage us to ignore our elderly relatives, leading to even more isolation? Could older people be deceived by a robot into thinking it was a human being? Is it an assault on the person’s dignity to expect it to interact with a machine?

Plenty of young people now have emotional relationships with their phones, and a lot of us are used to interacting with Siri and Alexa — maybe 20 times a day, like ElliQ and its users. The ethical concerns may seem less serious as time goes on and we get more accustomed to robot companions.

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