Post #6: Do we need a national robot strategy?

This is probably not a question currently to put to the Government of your author’s home country, with fewer than 40 days until Brexit is due to happen. Nonetheless, the topic is of crucial importance. Every country should have a national robot strategy, at least in the developed world. Yet, currently only Japan does. And the reason why – put simply – is demographics.

The future has already happened. There is a very strong correlation between the countries with the highest levels of robotic penetration (robots-per-worker ratio) in the world and those with the oldest workforces – think about Japan and Germany as good examples. However, the relationship goes much further than this: elderly people need caring for, and who better to do this potentially than robots? One notable statistic that struck us recently is that this year, for the first time in human history, there will be more people over 65 than under 5. By 2060, the number of Americans over 65 will double to 98m, while in Japan, 40% of the population will be 65 or over (source: The Economist). 

What this means is that there will simply not be enough younger people to look after so many older people unless robots help. At present, when we conceive of robots, they are predominantly of the industrial sort, involved in car assembly and the like. The International Federation of Robotics, an industry body, estimates that fewer than 10% of robots in circulation at present could be considered ‘service’ robots, aimed at helping the handicapped, administering medicine, and the like. Nonetheless, technology is improving and the range of tasks that robots can perform is correspondingly growing.

To return to Japan, its government estimates that some 8% of its nursing homes currently have robots. Per its national strategy, by 2020, 80% of its elderly should have some care provided by a robot. Such advanced thinking speaks of a combination of necessity and pragmatism. It behoves other nations to be thinking along similar lines.  

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