Ethical Perspectives of Japanese Engineers on Ambient Assisted Living Technologies: Semi-structured Interview
Ambient assisted living (AAL) technologies are expected to solve a significant number of problems related to elderly care. However, in Japan, limited discourse on the ethical issues concerning their application is hindering the spread of AAL technologies. Against this background, this study explores the ethical perspectives of AAL technology engineers in Japanese companies and the circumstances influencing their perspectives. A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was conducted. Nineteen Japanese AAL-technology companies were contacted, and nine of them and their engineers responded to the interviews. The contents of the interviews were analyzed with thematic analysis which showed that the engineers had ethical concerns about their products as follows: (1) safety and related conflicts, (2) acceptance of the technology, (3) dependence on the technology, (4) accident liability, (5) fair access to the technologies, and (6) privacy. In relation to these issues, they identified as company employees with regard to the following: responding to social needs, having many users, and cost reduction. They also mentioned being influenced by the Japanese national program for AAL-technology promotion. The engineers experienced dilemmas between the various stakeholders’ interests and they hoped that ethical guidelines for developing AAL technologies would resolve such dilemmas. In conclusion, Japanese AAL-technology engineers tackle ethical issues with regard to the application of their products. The engineers hope for the establishment of guidelines for the ethically responsible development of AAL technologies. The guidelines need to be established and implemented in an interactive manner, in order to avoid their being reduced to a bureaucratic formality.
KeywordsAmbient assisted living technology Robot ethics Ethics in elderly care Engineering ethics
The authors would like to thank all companies and interviewees involved in the survey. We also thank Joshua Wittig and Elizabeth Wade for language editing.
JK designed the study in consultation with MK and KK. MK contributed to design of the study and analysis of data. JK carried out the interviews and wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. MK and KK critically examined the results and reviewed the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This study was approved by the institutional review board of Osaka University Hospital (no. 16081-2, approved on July 5, 2016). Informed consent for research participation and publication of results in academic papers was obtained from all interviewees.
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