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Cyber Caring

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Crippled Monkey | 14:10 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2007

Picture the scene. You're watching Doctor Who, a Cyberman appears on screen ... is your first thought "Gosh I'd really like to give that heap of metal and chips a darn fine cuddle to cure my invalidity woes!" Let me take a step back from the obvious gags and frightened looks on your faces and apply a bit of analysis.

What is Monkey banging on about today? Well, we got a press release from the British Computer Society (BCS), you can go and look at it for yourself on their website, the one entitled Older people could get 'virtual friends' to prevent loneliness.

Low birth rates and potential lack of care workers in the future could mean a push towards technological and cyberspacial solutions for elderly and hence we assume disabled people too.

Dr Kevin Doughty, deputy director of York University's Centre for Usable Home Technology told members of the BCS's specialist Northern health informatics group:

"Around 50 forms of help - ranging from motion-activated lights to a fully-fledged robotic companion who could advise, interact and even entertain older people - could be the solution to the care burden predicted in years to come."

Gulp. 1984, Back to the Future 3, I'm not a name I'm a number, cold harsh lights shining in my eyes, good morning Mr Jetson, Just what do you think you're doing Dave? You're holding me but who's holding you? Help it's the Hair Bear Bunch! Isn't all this future talk a little harsh and unrealistic? Not to mention plain objectionable?

The projected figures seem to say it all. There will be more elderly people, so less around to care for them. But maybe attitudes will change and being caring may become more of a cherished position in the world? As opposed to Advertising Execs? Could that happen?

I remember when deaf people got upset about the idea of a little animated signing man in the corner of the TV screen instead of a real person. Simon the Signer, they called him. But having your arse wiped by Metal Mickey seems to be taking accessibility and independent living to a whole new level.

Monkey can fully appreciate that shopping and some social contact might be reasonably adequately served using digital means but Doughty goes on to say:

"More radical solutions could involve hug suits that simulate physical contact, or perhaps computer generated friends."

Oh could they indeed? I'm trying to think myself into an older less able body. Am adding a couple of new impairments, imagining a dose of chronic pain and now a bit of exhaustion ... and, wow, the Doc's right, I feel I need some of that digital help dreamt up by this new society I'm looking forward to being a part of, I really fancy the kind of comfort and warmth that comes from being squeezed between two metallic pincer-arms. Maybe even a no strings snog?

Yes to voice activated lights and TV sets ... no to mates that short circuit when given a beer.

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