In humanity’s continued efforts to adapt to a global ageing population, an article on BBC News and another article on CNN published late last year discuss a new solution to filling the elderly care gap: using robots to meet both the physical and emotional needs of our expanding elderly population. The idea of a “robotic” future may sound like science fiction and even invoke a sense of uneasiness, yet the change is gradually taking place across the world before our very eyes. Robots today can perform an amazing array of tasks: moving patients between rooms, tracking their sleep patterns, reminding them to take their medication, providing speech therapy to dementia patients, giving massages, and preparing and delivering meals. The recent development in assistive technology for care reminds us that we are living on the brink of the future and also invites us to reflect on the adaptability of modern social policies introduced over the past hundred or so years.
Demographic phenomena have often been cited as causes of poverty, environmental damage, resource depletion and other social and economic crises. One of the latest examples of this is the attempt to explain problems associated with the sustainability of welfare systems, such as rising old-age dependency, pension and healthcare costs and tax burden, with reference to population ageing. To what extent is this conceptualization of population ageing as a societal threat – a “time bomb” that would threaten the long-term viability of our society and economy – a valid one?