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Archive for 19 agosto 2020

During the pandemic, care-homes have been rat-traps for old people. In Canada more than 80% of deaths attributed to Covid-19 have been in care-homes; in places like England or Germany, the ratio was almost 40%. In Spain, the ratio is 68.67% according to estimates published by RTVE. I would say that something must be done.

I have written before about care-homes (see Services and conveniences) and the need for trained carers. But beyond that, what is needed is a complete overhaul of the way we care for old people. In most countries the system pivots on care-homes instead of caring at home.

Very few people argue that staying at home is the preferred choice of old people. It gives autonomy and independence, as well as familiar surroundings. Those characteristics are invaluable comforts as age advances. And not only that: according to a study, in Alabama those receiving care at home saved the State $4,500 a year, compared with those in care-homes.

As I see it, the only barrier to change the system is the system itself. Care at home implies a complete disruption of the care system logistics. It is easier to hire and control a care person in an institution. In the institution, the system can control comings and goings as well as productivity through close supervision. When you have people going from house to house, you have to give the person autonomy and trust that the work will be well done.

It is easy to see that the professional doing one institutionalized job, and the one doing the home care job have to have quite different training. They do basically the same work, namely helping with basic daily activities, so the difference is not in the acts to be performed. The basic difference is in trust, and trust comes with professionalism to be learned through proper training of attitudes more than aptitudes, even if the latter are also important. Unfortunately, I think the system is not ready for training real care professionals when it is relying on mostly immigrants, untrained and underpaid, who do the best they can with very little preparation.

Note: all the figures cited are taken from The Economist July 25th 2020 “The pandemic shows the urgency of reforming care for the elderly

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Human Intelligence is the “mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) anywhere near able to match that? The hype on AI is completely undeserved. What we call AI is no more than a very smart algorithm that can perform a single activity. AI has been applied to self-driving cars and to voice recognition, for instance. Is that intelligence? The same algorithm is not capable of doing something that almost any adult human being performs routinely: driving his car while, at the same time, understanding the news from the radio and reacting to both inputs accordingly.

Why call “intelligence” something that is no more than routine activity? Even if it is very amazing routine activity for a NON-INTELLIGENT ENTITY.

The above outburst has been prompted by a couple of letters to the editor in the July 4th issue of The Economist (https://www.economist.com/letters/2020/07/04/letters-to-the-editor) that I strongly recommend reading.

I am not against the use of computing power in order to facilitate human activities. What I resent is the misuse of words in order to make things look more important than they are. The use of “Artificial Intelligence” is making some people believe that we are going to be taken over by computers. Others think that AI is going to help us to jump to a new dimension. That our jobs are in jeopardy and that we will be slaves of the “Big Brother” supercomputer. That we well no longer need physicians since AI will solve anything. That feeling, precisely now when the Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging the world, is not something that we need; human intelligence will never be replaced by an algorithm, no matter how complex it is.

It would be good if we could find another word for “Artificial Intelligence”. One word that implies that human beings are needed to program, direct and feed the algorithms involved in the activities that the computer performs. One word that implies that the activity is meant to make life easy by performing routine tasks, so that we can use our time to do INTELIGENT THINGS.

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