I just heard a story on NPR's All Things Considered that made me want to rip my hair out. Personal robots! You know you want one! You don't need one, but that doesn't matter. They will be made, you will learn to want them, and you'll be getting them and upgrading them just like your smart phone or iPad. (Side note: If anyone can explain to me why the new robot thingies always have to be called "Rosie" I will be grateful. Don't blame it on the Jetsons. Where did the Jetsons come up with Rosie? Is it all just to mock the real Rosies, the riveters of WWII?)
We don't need robots to walk our dogs or wash our windows. We don't need them to "fold towels, help elderly and disabled people with home care, and even fetch a beer". For one thing, there's plenty enough beer-fetching going on in America's households as it is. For another, if you can't be bothered to walk you own dog, or pay another human to do it for you when you are too busy, you shouldn't have a dog. Robot dog walkers just take away one more job from young people.
But what REALLY hacks me off is the idea of robots designed to help the elderly and disabled with home care. What the elderly and disabled need is more contact with other human beings, not less. They don't need to be even more isolated in their homes than they already are. They need people they can talk to and interact with and tell their stories to. We need to pay decent living wages for this kind of care, to value it for the real importance it actually has, not sluff it off on the fantasy product of robotics researchers.
In any case, that bla bla about robots helping the elderly and disabled is just robotics engineers blowing smoke up your ass to keep their projects running. Do you think something that currently costs $400,000 to build is being designed to help one of the most despised and neglected segments of our population? Where else is money and effort on this scale being poured into improving the lives of the elderly and the disabled?
Robots are going to be a hip thing for the youth culture, just like smart phones and iPads. Things you could live without but are so cool to have, things that are always being upgraded. Things that are costly. The elderly and disabled, by and large, don't have extra cash to lay out on costly toys. They aren't going to buy dog-walking, beer-fetching robots.
Redesigning existing home stock to be universally accessible, or making sure your local government buildings and restaurants really are accessible as they claim to be, or lobbying for better care for returning disabled veterans - none of this sounds as sexy as beer-toting personal robots, I am sure. But all of it would be a a helluva lot more useful than one more fancy toy for your neighbor to envy.