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Accepted Paper:

Population Ageing, Neural Plasticity and Medical Robotics: An Exploration of Robot-assisted Rehabilitation in Contemporary South Korea  
Seonsam Na (Kuri Hanbit Convalescent Hospital) Eunjeong Ma (Pohang University of Science and Technology)

Paper short abstract:

As the country of 'early adopters', South Korea also actively embraces rehabilitation robots. By investigating how their use is envisaged by stakeholders, this paper examines the interplay of socioeconomic concerns, scientific theory and technological rationality in the era of digital revolution.

Paper long abstract:

The discourse of population ageing drives growth in the field of care and rehabilitation robotics (Neven and Leeson 2015), as the society is envisaged to be beset by the growing number of elderly people, causing critical staff shortages. Notwithstanding this somewhat ageist perspective, it is true that the sector is also driven by technological insights, such as by increasing positive evidence regarding the application of robotic devices in the rehabilitation of patients with neural injuries (e.g., Chang and Kim 2013). These studies highlight that the robots, due to their calibrated routines and sophisticated sensors, add benefits to the patients, particularly during the sub-acute stage. At the heart of this assessment lies the notion of neural plasticity, whereby the death of one brain area is understood to be compensated by alternative pathways whose generation can be afferentially triggered, i.e., through repeated exercise in the affected limbs (Bogue 2018). Ethnographic research on rehab robots has been focused on their role in preventing cognitive deterioration (Blond 2019) or as assistive technology (Bezmes and Yadimci 2015). This research examines their therapeutic dimension and investigates the notion of neuro-plasticity central to the robot-based regime, by conducting fieldwork in hospitals, disability centers, and robotics labs in South Korea where the robots are applied. In doing so, the authors seek to identify the diverse ways the notion is framed, understood, and developed by multiple actors, such as patients, doctors, and engineers, and to contextualize them in the broad contours of technological rationality fashioned by contemporary digital revolution.

Panel P09b
AI in Health and Care: Development, Governance, and Ethics in East Asia
  Session 1 Friday 10 June, 2022, -