Aging

Do Androids Dream of Changing Bedpans?

Robots to the rescue for Japan's aging population

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For Japan, what sounds like a blessing is in fact a dire national problem: Its people live a very, very long time.

With an average life expectancy of 85 for men and 87 for women, Japanese people are the longest lived in the world. Combine that with a low birth rate—just 1.41 children per woman—and you get a top-heavy country, with 22 percent of the population aged 65 or older.

Japan spends almost 30 percent of its annual budget on its social security program, the vast majority of which goes to medical care and pensions. But the budget is already overburdened; with a 227 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, Japan is also the most indebted country in the world.

One estimate by the Japanese government found that by 2060, the population will have dropped from 127 million down to 87 million—and that as much as 40 percent of the country could be seniors.

So who's going to take care of all those ojiisans and obassans?

Robots to the rescue! In 2009, the Japanese government set aside about $93 million for the "Home-use Robot Practical Application Project," intended to fund the development of robots for specific uses, such as carrying the elderly and infirm from one place to another.

In 2013, the government announced that it would spend more than $20 million a year subsidizing research into affordable robotics for use in nursing homes. According to the Bangor Daily News, the program would focus on four types of robots: a monitoring system to track the location of dementia patients, a robot movement aide to help the elderly walk, an Iron Man-like robot suit to help human health care workers lift the elderly, and an ambulatory toilet robot that can go to people who have trouble moving around.

Nursing care robots already exist, but they're very expensive, costing upwards of $160,000 each. One of the goals of the program is to bring the price down to about $1,000.

Both of these efforts represent a shift of sorts for Japan's robotics industry, which has long focused on general-use humanoid robots, such as Honda's ASIMO, a fully mobile robot that once played soccer (sort of) with President Obama. The problem with those robots is that, while they drive media interest, they end up being very expensive without being particularly productive. Japan's bottom line simply isn't helped much by a robot that can kick a ball at a foreign leader.

A robot nurse.
Wenn.com

But inexpensive robots that perform useful tasks could be genuinely valuable—and profitable. Japan's Trade Ministry has estimated that nursing care robots will grow into a $3.3 billion industry over the next two decades.

In late 2013, the Health, Labour, and Welfare Ministry started recommending nursing care robots to select nursing homes, passing out information packets designed to increase familiarity with certain types of robots. It hopes to eventually transition those robots into wider home use: "Once they are widely used in care facilities," a senior Health Ministry official told the Japan Times, "the government will provide a range of support measures to make them available for care at home."

In the meantime, Japan's robot manufacturers haven't entirely given up on ambitious human-like robot projects: In June 2014, Japanese telecom giant Softbank introduced Pepper, billed as the first robot capable of reading human emotions. "Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile," one Softbank executive said. In particular, according to news reports, the company was targeting the elderly.

Pepper went on sale in the fall of 2014, retailing for about $2,000. Early reports suggest that the emotional-reading capabilities leave a lot to be desired. ("I met an emotional robot and felt nothing," a writer for The Verge reported after a June demo.)

But robots may not need to be emotionally complex to help the elderly. In 2013, researchers writing in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing found that Paro, a cuddly therapeutic robot seal designed in Japan to help patients with dementia, found that the furry mechanical creations produce "a positive, clinically meaningful influence on quality of life, increased levels of pleasure and also reduced displays of anxiety." For a nation deeply anxious about the consequences of getting older, robot helpers are one less reason to worry.

But there are tradeoffs. Japan's subsidized robots are intended to make up for national shortages in human health workers—and a long history of restrictionist immigration policies. In 2010 the country had just 1.3 million nursing care workers, a far cry from the 2 million the Health Ministry estimated were necessary and woefully short of the 4 million the ministry expects will be needed in 2025. Restrictions on immigrant workers make the situation even more dire: Japanese citizens are legally prohibited from hiring foreign workers to help with senior or child care.

The subsidies, then, function as a way of avoiding higher immigration levels. For years, Japan has been notoriously resistant to immigration. Of its current population, less than two percent are from outside the country, and the nation has traditionally only allowed about 50,000 immigrant visas each year—far less than the 700,000 estimated to be necessary to keep population levels afloat.

In early 2014, reports suggested that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might allow for expanded immigration, perhaps as many as 200,000 newcomers each year. But by summer, he had backed off the idea. "In countries that have accepted immigration," he declared on a Japanese TV show, according to The Financial Times, "there has been a lot of friction, a lot of unhappiness both for the newcomers and the people who already lived there."

Robot workers might provide some assistance for the country's aging population, but they won't do much to solve the nation's underlying fiscal problems: They don't pay taxes, start businesses, or contribute directly to a growing economy. At best, they'll make it easier for Japan to grow old. But unlike immigrants, they won't make the country young again.

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68 responses to “Do Androids Dream of Changing Bedpans?

  1. “But inexpensive robots that perform useful tasks could be genuinely valuable?and profitable.”

    If this were true, there would be no need of gov’t subsidies.

      1. Yes, there is that…

      2. The government doesn’t have any noses they didn’t steal.

  2. On the other hand rbots also won’t leave Japan with an immmigrant population that hasn’t or isn’t allowed to assimilate. The Japanese are racists. Polite, but still racist. Descendents of Koreans brought in as forced bor during WWII still have to have internal passports. The Japanese apparemtly want to remain Japanese. And that’s a not unreasonable position.

    1. What is that non unreasonable?

    2. Not when you’re genetic descendants of Koreans. That link is great because the comments are full of Koreans and Japanese shitting all over each other.

      1. But they’re all Mongoloids!. Specifically Sindonts!

    3. That is only reasonable if you’re a collectivist shitheel.

      1. ha! +1 “body politic”

    4. Are said Koreans exempt from taxation within Japan? Are they subject to the same legal obligations as non-Korean Japanese? If not, then it’s highly unreasonable. It’s also short-sighted and indicative of a confusion between ethnicity and nationality that would be quaint if it wasn’t so mean.

      1. Are said Koreans exempt from taxation within Japan? Are they subject to the same legal obligations as non-Korean Japanese?

        It’s sort of complex.

      2. My friend Bob Blumetti explained that that basis of nationality became popular about 2 centuries ago as a revolt against imperialism. National identities were aroused, with movements to collect all of each type in its own country, rather than having monarchies or empires that spanned or straddled them.

  3. It would be nice to have fully productive robots who could help with geriatric. But if they’re being subsidized, then they aren’t truly “productive.”

    I swear, sometimes it feels like people will try any solution to a problem except the least costly solution.

    1. People chose the magic solution over the hard solution so long as they possibly can.

    2. ” But if they’re being subsidized, then they aren’t truly “productive.”

      They aren’t called geriatrics for nothing.

  4. So if we can’t persuade the Japanese to have more children, what is the solution then? Allow immigration from India, Pakistan, Phillipines, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East and Africa?

    True, robots don’t make the country younger, but the alternative is to replace the Japanese population with a non-Japanese population. Within a couple generations, Japan won’t be Japanese anymore. And when you import people, you import their conflicts as well, as we’ve seen by terror attacks in Europe.

    1. So if we can’t persuade the Japanese to have more children, what is the solution then?

      why is either question our concern? I have no quarrel with the Japanese but it’s not up to us to dictate their reproductive rates. They’re smart people; the foreseeable consequences are not that hard to imagine here.

      1. the foreseeable consequences are not that hard to imagine here.

        As is the solution: a ban on those Japanese anime sex pillows

      2. As with panda bears, a population to lazy to fuck has no right to exist.

        1. Dances-with-Trolls|2.22.15 @ 12:33PM|#
          “As with panda bears, a population to lazy to fuck has no right to exist.”

          I dunno. The ChiComs have turned those pandas into a real profit center.

        2. Article warns not to conflate having families with having sex:

          http://www.bloombergview.com/a…..x-drought-

          Such is the case with the media’s renewed obsession with reports that the Japanese have given up on sex. This canard emerges every couple of years ….
          The real issue is that many avoid traditional, committed relationships out of doubts about the future that based on economics rather than culture. If low libido were strictly societal, why do the Czech Republic, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan have fertility rates as low as Japan’s? I don’t see the global media characterizing those countries as sexless freak shows spiraling toward extinction.

          “This is the typical weird and wacky Japan story that overseas editors seem to gobble up and encourage,” says Jeff Kingston, head of Asian studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University.

          “Of course Japanese have sex and if the number of love hotels is any barometer it seems like many are getting plenty of it. How do all those places stay in business if nobody is doing it?”

          1. In relation to love hotels above, see also Soaplands–bathhouses were you can pay for every sex act but vaginal penetration (the legal definition of prostitution)

            Even disabled/handicapped folks are not left out: Medical Sex Worker

            And Mass `Intercourse Party` the Japanese Way

            The largest group intercourse in the world was organised in Japan. The couples’ movements were perfectly harmonised and taped.

            1. Some interesting stats in relation to above: AV producer: One in 200 Japanese women performed in porn for women under 55

              The article also cites a calculation of 1 in 65 young women in fuzoku (various legal sex services)

              That’s a lot of women having sex without producing kids.

      3. “why is either question our concern? I have no quarrel with the Japanese but it’s not up to us to dictate their reproductive rates. ”

        That’s bullshit Wareagle. The US shouold invade. Send in the Marines backed by an aircraft carrier battleforce.

        Fuck Yeah, ‘Merica.

        /Cyclotoxic the Canuck

      4. Why is either question your concern? That itself is a strange question on a blog site about the world’s affairs. Very few things discussed here are actually the concern of commenters.

    2. Within a couple generations, Japan won’t be Japanese anymore.

      Isn’t that a bit hyperbolic? We’re talking one industry here: health and home care. I doubt Filipina nurses and maids are a long term threat to current Japanese demographics.

      1. I doubt Filipina nurses and maids are a long term threat to current Japanese demographics

        I’m guessing the biggest threat to Japanese demographics is the high cost of living making children too expensive. I doubt that immigrants could meaningfully crack that barrier and overwhelm the nation.

        Japan is one of the most racist places on earth. I can’t see them building an anime statue of liberty and embracing gaijin, galic-eaters, and various barbarians even if their lives depend on it.

          1. I knew I could count on you. 🙂

            1. Interesting thing about that statue, in the US we have the statue facing outward, to welcome immigrants. In Odaiba the statue faces inland, so the tourists and shoppers can see it.

    3. You tend to import the least conflicted among the people. Immigrants are the people who are in search of making their lives better. If assimilation makes their lives better, then they will assimilate.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that radicalized immigrants tended to be radicalized only *after* they had moved.

      For example, you don’t see many radicalized parents among immigrants. But you do see radicalization among their children. This suggests that it is a sociological factor of their condition in the new country. Not something they bring over with them when they move.

    4. “And when you import people, you import their conflicts as well, as we’ve seen by terror attacks in Europe.”

      See what those Irish did in Boston?!

        1. Made delicious fusion food?

          Mmmm. Lomo Saltado.

    5. The Japs don’t need immigrants. They don’t need more people. The reason their birthrate is so low is because they don’t have anymore room.

      1. any more. Geesh.

      2. The reason their birthrate is so low is because they don’t have anymore room.

        There is a third variable there. The endlessly copulating Indians and Chinese don’t have anymore room. The fact is that the United State is an anomaly in that it is a highly developed countries with a positive birthrate.

          1. Both of ’em!

          2. The United States even.

            No, you had it right the first time. We were the United States, but Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and Johnson have succeeded in turning us into the United State.

      3. Have you been to Japan? I’ve seen lots of room once you get outside of Tokyo going north. Rural Japan is losing population quickly, towns are vanishing because the kids are moving away from farms to the cities, and the elderly parents can’t run the farms anymore and eventually pass on.

    6. Within a couple generations, Japan won’t be Japanese anymore.

      THE
      HORROR!

      1. I’m writing down as many Japanese recipes as I can right now. This is a recipe forum, right?

        1. Start with Harris NY-cuts!

          1. NY Strip actually works quite well for Japanese dishes. I already have reservations for this April at my regular place, and I’m on the wait list for this place (it’s the chef who got caught serving whale, so you know it’s gonna be good).

            1. What did s/he serve the whales?

      2. It’s very important that all nations, cultures, and “races” on Earth stay exactly as they are at this moment, frozen in time for eternity. Because…REASONS.

        1. Shut up WOP!

          1. “He’s not melting, he’s ‘chillaxing’. If you can’t speak the language, go back to Mexico! Where you were born, and are from!”

    7. Within a couple generations, Japan won’t be Japanese anymore.

      I think I’m turning un-Japanese,
      I think I’m turning un-Japanese,
      I really think so.

  5. Once automatons become sentient it violates the NAP to require them to perform tasks.

    1. But wouldn’t it also be cruel to have them unemployed? That was the story of the robot on Futurama, remember?

      1. require

        They certainly could enter into an employment contract.

  6. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have the robots kill the old people?

    Also, the laser-cat dude killed himself. What can you do.

  7. “Japan spends almost 30 percent of its annual budget on its social security program,”

    Which is of course 18% less than the US spends on social security & Medicare . . .

  8. Yeah, Japan is such a third-world shithole without immigration. Who would ever want to live there?

  9. Sounds like one heck of a deal to me dude.

    http://www.FullAnon.tk

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  11. Hmmmm…. absurd immigration policies, an explosion of diaper-shitting old people driving catastrophic lecels of national debt, and increasingly bizaare government plans to “fix” everything. Sounds alot like the US.

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