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March 25, 2009 -- Today Agence France-Presse reported that Japan planned to develop safety standards for the "robot nurses" it hoped would soon assume a significant role in caring for the nation's aging population. The article was headlined "Japan plans robo-nurses in five years: govt." These "service robots" may play an important role in future health care in industrialized nations, probably even by doing some tasks that fall under the general category of "nursing," such as lifting patients. But "robo-nurses" are not college-educated professionals who save lives with their critical thinking skills. Real nurses are. And the media's chronic misuse of the term "nurse" to describe the robots undermines the profession that actually plays a central role in health care.
According to the AFP item, Japanese "ministry of trade and industry official" Motoki Korenaga hopes that Japan will remain the "industry leader" in robotics by "preparing necessary guidelines for service robots." In particular, the new "Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization will launch a five-year project to improve safety standards for next-generation robots." In addition to Japan's desire to maintain its global dominance in robotics--it makes about 70% of the world's industrial robots--the report notes that Japan has a "shortage of caregivers for elderly people." So it has loosened immigration rules to attract "nurses" from the Philippines and Indonesia.
For many years, the global media has referred to machines that play a role in health care as "nurses" because media creators assume that any assistive person or thing, no matter how basic their skills, can properly be called a "nurse." (See our list of analyses on robot nurses.) That is, media creators have assumed that nursing is essentially synonymous with "helping in health care," rather than a distinct health science that requires years of college-level training. Terms like "robo-nurse" convey a powerful disrespect for nursing--assuming, of course, that they do not refer to a veteran nurse's mind augmented by powerful robotic body parts, as was the case with the main police character in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film Robocop. We hope that AFP and other media creators will reconsider their damaging references to robots as "nurses."
See the article "Japan plans robo-nurses in five years: govt" by Agence France Press published March 25, 2009.