Maintaining human interaction
in a "robo-care" world

Aug 11, 2016
By Matt Cullen

Much has been made of the potential of robotics to revolutionise retirement, particularly late-life care, by undertaking tasks (whether around the home or in residential care) that would otherwise be carried out, at greater cost, by humans. As the sophistication of robotics rises, and costs fall, over time, this potential is already beginning to take shape.

However, ‘robo-care’ is often critiqued as likely to increase social isolation for elderly people. In turn, social isolation and loneliness have been linked to cognitive decline, potentially increasing the late-life care burden. The private retirement market is increasingly being encouraged to design retirement income solutions that incorporate an element of late life care costs, and in this context maintaining human interaction in this world is likely not only an ethical issue, but a business issue for insurance, savings and wealth management firms as well.

As well as removing the need for humans in certain aspects of elderly care, technology should also have the potential to help the elderly maintain or improve day-to-day human interaction in a number of ways (although clearly these ideas are built on assumptions about technological development over the coming years):

  1. Using data analytics to inform the bringing together of like-minded elderly people—both remotely and physically.
  2. Utilising the rise of autonomous vehicles to maintain geographical mobility for longer, reducing the tendency for elderly people to become stuck in their own homes.
  3. Using innovations such as virtual reality and hologram technology to facilitate genuine, albeit virtual, human interaction not only with family and friends, but other individuals / organisations as well.

The retirement market implications of such innovations will depend upon the extent to which firms develop and distribute propositions that provide a holistic funding of retirement including elderly care. In such a market, there would be an incentive for firms to facilitate actions that helped maintain human interaction and independence, potentially reducing extensive elderly care costs. In countries where much of the burden of funding elderly care rested with the State, the incentives would, of course, rest there instead.

The extent to which firms in the retirement market begin to implement initiatives that use technology to help their customers maintain human interaction, will depend on a number of unanswered questions:

  1. What would be the costs of implementing particular schemes using technology to maintain human interaction?
  2. What are the modelled financial impacts on care costs of maintaining human interaction, and for which types of customers? A question which requires much more research and data over time to answer.
  3. What impact would this have on the competitiveness of firms’ retirement offerings? Would the impact be significant enough for firms to make the effort?

Hear Matt Cullen share his ideas on how to help the elderly maintain or improve day-to-day human interaction.

Matt Cullen

About the author

Matt Cullen
Assistant Director, Head of Strategy, Association of British Insurers

Matt Cullen is the ABI’s Assistant Director, Head of Strategy. In this role he provides thought leadership on the long term strategic challenges and opportunities facing the insurance industry, and works with policy and executive colleagues to incorporate this thinking into planning and policy development. Much of his time has been spent building the ABI’s policy agenda and public profile in three key emerging areas: technological change and data, cyber risk and the impact of increasing longevity on the long-term savings market.

Matt is also Interim Head of Data & Analytics. In this role he leads the team of analysts collecting industry data from ABI members, and is driving a modernisation programme to ensure that the Data & Analytics function adds maximum value internally and externally.

Matt joined the ABI in September 2010 as Policy Adviser, Flooding, and became Manager, General Insurance in 2013. In these roles, he led the development of Flood Re, building stakeholder support for the model, working on its negotiation, and leading the project team implementing the scheme.

Matt began his career in the UK and US nuclear industries – with roles at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the US Department of Energy - after reading Geography and Management at Cambridge University.