Three months ago I wrote a blog (Social Care Luddites) arguing that the social care sector was amongst the most innovative around in terms of technology and digital design and usage. I argued then and still would that the sector has not been as fully recognised, valued and involved by others, as it should have been, should be and must be as we move into the new technological future.

I am therefore delighted that on Friday Scottish Care, with the invaluable support of the Clydesdale Bank, will be hosting TechCare, CareTech. This sold out event brings together a whole range of developers, designers, providers and staff from across the care home and homecare sectors in Scotland to explore issues of technology in the care of older persons.

It’s been a busy few months. On a personal level shortly after I wrote the blog I had a conversation with a friend who just happens to be a senior academic at Oxford University who researches and teaches in the area of Big Data. We sat in my living room and she spotted I had an Amazon Alexa. Within 30 minutes of a conversation I had disconnected the machine and put it in its box where it has remained ever since. There then started several weeks of personal learning and research – including some very interesting holiday reading! What began as an exercise in me collating my own thoughts on technology ended up in a 60 page report ‘TechRights: human rights, technology and social care’ which will be published tomorrow at the TechCare event. I am extremely grateful for all those who sent me books, articles and papers to read and spent time in conversation with me.

Why have I spent so long on this area of interest? Well probably because the more I read and heard the more I was convinced that issues of technology and data and the way we use Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the Internet of Things present us with some of the most significant ethical, moral and human rights challenges of our generation. When I then went on to consider what all these developments meant and might come to mean for the way in which we care for and support some of our most vulnerable citizens, I was convinced that these issues needed to be highlighted as of real significance and priority for the social care sector and for wider society.

The advances in technology – not least in the ability to process gargantuan volumes of data, to develop and use smart technology for the person and in the home, the developing use of robotics and Artificial Intelligence –  are happening at break-neck speed. What was impossible last year is this year considered routine; what was unimaginable a decade ago is now technology which is redundant and obsolete.

The way we decide, as a society, to respond to and develop further technological innovation, will to a large extent, determine the sort of future we create for both ourselves and our children. It is, I believe, as fundamental as that.

So the range of issues that TechRights explores include the role of Big Data and data platforms; the necessity of creating robust ethical and human rights frameworks around the work we do; the importance of the citizen being involved in the design, ownership and control of the data which is gathered upon them. But given its focus on older persons care, one of the main themes is that of robotics. We have already seen care homes across the world begin to use robots in the care and support of older persons. Indeed in Japan the use of robotics has been significantly culturally accepted as normative. What about Scotland? Do we want to address the workforce challenges we face by using robots to care? Do we want to free up the over-stretched care home staff by using robots more? Do we envisage a time where the robot has the conversation with someone living with dementia rather than the human carer?

The human rights frameworks that we work within and under were developed shortly after the Second World War. Indeed this year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and that legacy down through the years has been invaluable in shaping modern society. But I would argue we have now reached a stage in human history where we need to re-articulate those frameworks and human rights to speak to a new age and new circumstances. We need to develop a human rights and ethical framework for a technological age of AI, robotics and Big Data. Simple reliance through case law and other juridical means we have will no longer protect our inalienable human rights.

At the heart of this, I would suggest, is the discussion about whether or not we should have a human right to be cared for by a human being? Is that as inalienable a human right as the right not to be tortured or the right to life itself? At the very least we need to start to have that debate and begin to articulate the parameters and boundaries of what we believe human rights mean in social care in this technological age. I hope ‘TechRights’ will make a small contribution to that discourse.

I leave you with the words of one of the foremost developers of Artificial Intelligence, the American Joseph Weizenbaum, who wrote:–

‘to substitute a computer system for a human function that involves interpersonal respect, understanding and love, is simply obscene.’

 

Dr Donald Macaskill

CEO, Scottish Care

@DrDMacaskill