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MIT Emeritus Professor Rodney Brooks with Baxter, an industrial manufacturing robot. Photo: QUT.

Roboticist calls for more automation for ageing

One of the world’s leading roboticists, responsible for tech that disposes of explosives in war zones, wants to see more robotics catering for the ageing population.

MIT Emeritus Professor Rodney Brooks, who worked for the university for a decade before retiring to focus on his own robotics companies, is the founder of robots ranging from the PackBot, used by US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the autonomous Roomba vacuum cleaner.

For his work, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by QUT. Brooks spoke at a graduation ceremony at the university last week, where he said there will be four megatrends that will reverberate throughout the professional lifetimes of those in attendance; one of which was the demographic inversion of age profiles, moving to a world with many more older people than younger people.

“There will be a smaller proportion of people to do the adult work that keeps society working, and there will be more elderly people who need more services, provided by those working age people,” Brooks said at the event. “This means we will need more automation.”

Brooks said this megatrend is predictable and stable, adding we know today just about exactly how many 20-year-olds will be living in any country and that there is nothing that can be done to increase that number.

“Many worry that robots will take away our jobs. I worry we won’t have enough robots to support the lifestyles that we all think are rightfully ours.”

He added more and more technology will be aimed at the elderly. “Us baby boomers are not going into the darkness lightly, but instead will continue to have a disproportionate impact on how the world’s economy works for a while longer.”

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