All Shorenstein APARC News News June 30, 2021

Robotics and the Future of Work: Lessons from Nursing Homes in Japan

On the Future Health podcast, Karen Eggleston discusses the findings and implications of her collaborative research into the effects of robot adoption on staffing in Japanese nursing homes.
Logo of the New South Wales Ministry of Health's podcast Future Health

Does the new wave of digital technologies portend a future in which robots and automation increasingly replace workers and destroy livelihoods? In one of the first studies of service sector robots, APARC experts find evidence to offset dystopian predictions of robot job replacement.

The researchers — Asia Health Policy Program Director Karen Eggleston, SK Center Fellow Yong Suk Lee, and University of Tokyo health economist Toshiaki Iizuka, our former visiting scholar — set out to examine how robots affect labor, productivity, and quality of care in Japan’s nursing homes. Their findings indicate that robot adoption may not be detrimental to labor and may help address the challenges of rapidly aging societies.

Eggleston recently joined the Future Health podcast, an initiative of the New South Wales Ministry of Health, to discuss the study and its implications. The program is available both as a video and audio podcast. Watch and listen below:

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Published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study suggests that robot adoption has increased employment opportunities for non-regular care workers, helped mitigate the turnover problem that plagues nursing homes, and provided greater flexibility for workers. It is also published in AHPP's working paper series and is part of a broader research project by Eggleston, Lee, and Iizuka, that explores the impact of robots on nursing home care in Japan and the implications of robotic technologies adoption in aging societies.

The study has attracted media attention. The Financial Times Magazine, in a feature story and podcast, called it “groundbreaking in several ways but perhaps most clearly for setting its sights not on manufacturing but on the services sector, where robots are only just beginning to make their mark.” The Freakonomics Radio podcast also hosted Eggleston and Lee for a conversation about their research as part of an episode on collaborative robots and the future of work.

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