23rd Berlin Colloquium
Robots in Healthcare – Who Will Help Us When We Are Helpless?


May 22, 2019
10.30 - 18.00 Uhr
Karl Storz Visitor and Training Center, Berlin


Special publication
„spektrum kompakt: Smart Living“

Care robots support or replace human healthcare workers. They provide essential medications and food, help lay down or pick up persons in need of care or alert emergency services when necessary. Some patients prefer machines for certain tasks, for example washing in the genital area. Other activities, above all involving social interaction, do not yet appear suitable for care robots.

The facts speak for themselves: By 2030, the number of persons in need of care will have increased by around 50 percent – some 3.4 million people in Germany will then be dependent on the help of others. At the same time, around half a million healthcare workers will be lacking. Demographic developments are aggravating this situation in two ways: Fewer and fewer young people are available as geriatric nurses, while the high physical and mental demands are causing employees to leave the healthcare occupations earlier and in greater numbers.

The 23rd Berlin Colloquium “Robots in Healthcare – Who Will Help Us When We Are Helpless?” adopted an interdisciplinary approach to this topic. Scientists from the fields of computer science, robotics, medicine, healthcare, social psychology, and philosophy opened the floor for discussion on conclusion of their lectures. As scientific director, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel coordinated both the participating international researchers and the experts from the practical disciplines. Since 2009, Bendel has lectured as an assistant professor on subjects including business informatics and business economics at the School of Business, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. In 2018 he had headed the Ladenburg Roundtable on “Robots in Healthcare”; this was summarized in an open-access publication (Springer Science publishers) that was then presented at the Berlin Colloquium.

The 23rd Berlin Colloquium set out to initiate specific action in the face of this ethically and technologically highly complex ongoing development: Within only a few years’ time, healthcare robots will have outgrown the prototype stage and will be able to act partly or entirely autonomously. The application of artificial intelligence, in particular, is opening up entirely new perspectives not only in driverless cars, in agriculture or in aerospace. These technologies will also advance to the frontiers of human living – in the care of stroke and dementia patients or of people with disabilities. It is therefore immensely important that society – theoretically and practically, technically and philosophically – should reach an understanding on an ethical framework, consciously and in good time. Not least with a view to a future legislative basis, it will be necessary to develop a holistic, interdisciplinary, and scientifically founded standpoint in dealing with persons in need of care.

In addition to combining theory and practice, the 23rd Berlin Colloquium also set out to discuss the international perspective on the topic of healthcare robots. Not only in Japan and many European countries, but also at a later time in China or India, the problems associated with a dramatically growing elderly population will be accompanied by the task of caring for these people with dignity despite the acute shortage of personnel. Particularly in terms of the patients’ data security, nourishment, and self-determination in their personal lifestyle, this development will have far-reaching consequences for the individual.

Scientific director:
Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel, School of Business, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW)

Prof. Dr. Michael Anderson, Computer Sciences Department, University of Hartford (machine ethics)
Prof. Dr. Susan L. Anderson, Philosophy Department, University of Connecticut (machine ethics)
Prof. Dr. Florian Coulmas, IN-EAST Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen (cultural science)
Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald, Director of the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (politics)
Prof. Dr. Gundula Hübner, Psychology Department, University of Halle-Wittenberg (psychology)
Dr. Andreas Keibel, Business Development Manager, KUKA (robotics)
Dr. Karsten Schwarz, FORMAT Research Project, University Hospital Halle-Saale (practice)