Can a Robot Seal Really Take Care of Grandma?

Paro raises ethical concerns
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2010 12:56 PM CDT
Paro, a therapeutic seal robot that reacts to human touch, is shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Feb. 4, 2008.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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(Newser) – Is Paro—the adorable robotic seal designed to comfort the elderly—the best thing to happen to solitary seniors since the Clapper, or a tasteless substitute for human attention? Manufactured in Japan and recently cleared in the US as a Class 2 medical device, the $6,000 robot is intended as a sort of pet therapy (it can recognize voices and make "weird" sounds), just without the messiness of a living animal. But ethicists fear that we’re putting the emotional well-being of seniors in the hands (flippers?) of a gadget.

"Why are we so willing to provide our parents, then ourselves, with faux relationships?" asks one MIT professor. But Paro’s fans say it’s invaluable for certain needy patients, particularly dementia sufferers, reports the Wall Street Journal. The seal’s European distributor requires nursing home employees to take a class on the device, so they don’t allow patients to, in the words of one consultant, “escape into a strange seal robot’s universe.”

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