I know that hypotheses need to be proven by experimentation and all, but was it really ever debatable that giving elderly patients a fluffy robot seal would make them happier?
In any case, the answer is yes, obviously. Paro is a $US5000 ($6661) therapy seal that’s said to have therapeutic effects on elderly individuals with dementia. The Front Porch Center, a California organisation that runs retirement communities, deployed Paro in seven homes and studied the effects over the course of six months.
Unsurprisingly, the results were positive: Paro increased “social behaviour” in 97 per cent of cases, and reduced wandering and anxiety by 73 and 59 per cent respectively. The study isn’t perfect — it’s lacking a control group of dead, non-robotic seals, for example — but the 920 individual observations are hard to argue with.
There’s an obvious dystopian narrative here to do with handing elderly care over to robots, but just for once, I’d like to forget the Terminator storyline, and focus on the fluffy robotic seals instead.