Sociologist of labour Fabian Dekker: "I would deploy a lot of robots in healthcare"

During his PhD defence in 2008, sociologist Fabian Dekker already warned for this: an enormous shortage on the labour market due to an ageing population. "Unfortunately, little has been done about it. Technology can offer a solution. Robotic arms can wash people very well and fill labour shortages in the care sector." Using migrant workers to combat labour shortages, on the other hand, does not seem smart to him.

Robot lawyers

Compared to other Western countries, the Netherlands does little in the way of technological innovation around AI and big data. According to Fabian Dekker, this is mainly because labour is too inexpensive in the Netherlands. "That makes it a big step to use technology, while you can use it almost everywhere. In the legal sector, you can automate court rulings. There are robot lawyers. At Schiphol Airport, things can also be done more efficiently. The fact that it's not happening is not only because of the costs, but also because the technology is not that advanced yet."

Arie Kers

Things can also go wrong with the use of robots in the workplace. Dekker mentions hotels in Japan where check-in is arranged by robots: "They do not understand the check-in and do not understand various languages. The hotel also has robots that carry luggage, but these collide with each other. So in terms of development, there is also a lot to be done." 

Robots are a must in healthcare

We are in the middle of a healthcare crisis. We have to provide more and more care with fewer and fewer care providers. That is why a lot of care workers are needed. According to Dekker, automation is part of the solution, but there are still many hurdles to take: "There is still a lot of ignorance about what exactly can be done with robots. And in healthcare, you also have to deal with the end user. The elderly, the environment and the care professionals who will ultimately have to work with them.''

"You no longer have to ask an unknown care worker to wash you"

Still, he says there are many robots that can be used in elderly care. People can be washed by robotic arms, for example. He is not afraid of less human dimensions: "Research shows that the users of the robots are positive. They are no longer ashamed. They no longer have to ask an unknown care worker or family member to help. You also take away some of the informal care.''

Labour migration is not a solution

People are now thinking of a solution by bringing in care workers from abroad. "I don't think that's a good idea. We had the same problem in the 1960s. Those groups needed about three generations to acquire their position in society and the labour market. On top of that, we have no housing at all. You bring in all these social negative effects, while you can also automate."

More information

Read all about our researcher Fabian Dekker.

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