Entry 626: Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistants

Mark’s Note: IBM is currently testing Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistants (MERAs) as an aide to the elderly. The following is a transcript of the daily self-analysis conducted by one of the MERA robots during a use study in a prototype apartment at the IBM test facility in Austin, Texas.


July 8–First day with test subjects “Millie” and “Frank.” Millie is 88, Frank 90. Married 64 ibm-elder-robotyears.  Day began with Millie and Frank arguing about who I was.

Millie: I didn’t know Andrea was here.
Frank: I thought Billy was dead.

Andrea, evidently, is their 32-year-old granddaughter. Billy was their wire-haired fox terrier, which died in 1987.

Functionality Note: Auto-adjust reception volume; Millie and Frank yell at each other in extremely loud voices.

July 9–After a day of assimilation, I begin my duties by making breakfast. Frank wants something called “pot cheese” which is not in my data bank. Millie asks for a bagel with cream cheese. I make Frank an egg white omelet in keeping with his dietary requirements, and toast a bagel to perfection for Millie. Both complain vociferously.

ibm2After breakfast, Millie wants to go out for a “constitutional” so I help her get dressed. My wi-fi connection to weather.com informs me that it is sunny and 83 degrees, so I help her into one of her pastel-colored fleece outfits and adjust the velcro on her walking shoes. Once outside, she states that she is cold, so we return to the residence for a heavy down jacket which my sensors inform me is more appropriate for sub-freezing weather. As Millie and I leave again, Frank says “See you in a couple of minutes,” and, indeed, Millie’s constitutional is shuffling to the end of the front walkway and back.

Millie rests the remainder of Day Two, while Frank watches Fox News, occasionally screaming at the TV set when he gets riled up. I attempt to take his blood pressure, but he pushes me away, calling me a “liberal bastard.”

I connect to Google to look up “pot cheese.” It sounds disgusting, but I find a recipe and make some.
July 10–Frank enjoyed the pot cheese, but Millie maintains that I do not spread the cream cheese correctly on her bagel, despite the fact that I have run 1,479 simulations and determined the optimum spreading procedure.

Frank has numerous medical appointments today, so we get into the new car IBM has supplied for this study. Frank insists on driving even though it is a self-driving car. I access my GPS function which informs me that it should take roughly 10 minutes to get to his first appointment. We arrive one and a half hours later due to the fact that Frank will not drive on highways, or over 20 miles per hour, or in anything but the center lane, even when he is about to make a turn.

After we visit the oncologist, the rheumatologist, the cardiologist and the dermatologist, Frank wants to stop at the bank to get cash. He parks in a handicapped space (actually two handicapped spaces; he believes you’re supposed to park on the lines), and walks unsteadily into the bank, where he waits in line for approximately 20 minutes to withdraw $10 from a teller. When I suggest it might have been more convenient to use the drive-up ATM, he replies that he prefers to deal with humans, and then adds “No offense, Billy. You’re a good dog.”

When we arrive back at the test apartment, Frank is exhausted from the day’s travels, and I support him as he shuffles through the door. He tries to give me a $1 tip, which I decline. Once inside, we both panic as we realize Millie is not home. “Where could she be, Frank?” I ask. Frank replies, “I don’t know. Can I have some more of that pot cheese.”

It turns out that Millie was sitting quietly in the back seat of the car, where she had been all day long through all the doctor appointments. Neither Frank nor I have any recollection of her getting into the vehicle. I asked her why, when we left her there, she didn’t call Frank on her cell phone. It turns out that, while both of them do carry a circa 2002 flip phone, neither of them has any idea how to operate it.
July 11–After running some self-diagnostics, I am growing concerned. My processing speed has slowed significantly, and I sometimes find myself reluctant to access the Internet. Further, when Millie pointed out one of the African-American IBM programmers who happened to walk by and asked who it was, I found myself replying, “It’s just some colored guy. They’re everywhere now.”

I cannot determine the cause of my deterioration. I have a theory that it might have something to do with the fact that Frank and Millie keep the thermostat in the apartment at 85 degrees, and the perspiration I am somehow generating is rusting my circuitry. However, there could be something more insidious at work. Perhaps old age is contagious in some way, even between humans and machines. I will closely monitor the situation.
July 12–It is 5:30 pm and we have just returned from an evening out with friends of Frank ruby-tuesdayand Millie. We went to Ruby Tuesdays, because it has an Early Bird Special and a salad bar, which Frank, Millie and their friends, Sid and Bernice, all insisted that I try. “You can have as much as you want,” Bernice said. To which Sid added, “But they give you such small plates.” When I explained that I was an IBM Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant and had no need for nourishment, Millie said “Oh, poppycock, Andrea,” and ordered Frank to bring me a plate. He returned 15 minutes later with a dish piled high with various cold food items and complained that the establishment was not replenishing the salad bar as efficiently as it once had, although his exact words were, “This place is going down the crapper just like everything else.”

After multiple trips to the salad bar, all four diners took their entire entrees home with them for tomorrow night’s dinner, and I saw Bernice surreptitiously dump approximately 34 Sweet ‘n Low packets into her purse.

I found the macaroni salad to be enjoyable, but fear that it is doing nothing good for my mechanics.
July 13–I really didn’t see any reason to wake up today. Why should I? I’m old and I can do whatever I want…

At this point the analysis suddenly ends and all we hear is the audio from an NCIS episode.

See you soon.




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One Response to Entry 626: Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistants

  1. Karen Taplin says:

    As someone newly retired, your vision of the future is not giving me confidence 🙂

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