Tokyo University of Science


2023.07.10 Monday

AI Nursing Ethics: Viability of Robots and Artificial Intelligence in Nursing Practice

While robots and artificial intelligence have the potential to act as nurses, it raises several ethical concerns

Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to play a key role in nursing practice in the future. In this regard, researchers from Japan ask whether intelligent machines can replace humans as nurses. They investigate the potential of current advancements in robotics and AI to replicate the ethical concepts attributed to nurses, including advocacy, accountability, cooperation, and caring. While these technologies hold promise in enhancing healthcare practices, their integration into nursing requires careful consideration.

The recent progress in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) promises a future where these technologies would play a more prominent role in society. Current developments, such as the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the ability to generate original artwork, and the creation of chatbots capable of engaging in human-like conversations, highlight the immense possibilities held by these technologies. While these advancements offer numerous benefits, they also pose some fundamental questions. The characteristics such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and learning-once considered to be unique to humans-are now being replicated by AI. So, can intelligent machines be considered 'human'?

In a step toward answering this question, Associate Professor Tomohide Ibuki from Tokyo University of Science, in collaboration with medical ethics researcher Dr. Eisuke Nakazawa from The University of Tokyo and nursing researcher Dr. Ai Ibuki from Kyoritsu Women's University, recently explored whether robots and AI can be entrusted with nursing, a highly humane practice. Their work was made available online on 12 June 2023 and published in the journal Nursing Ethics on 12 June 2023

"This study in applied ethics examines whether robotics, human engineering, and human intelligence technologies can and should replace humans in nursing tasks," says Dr. Ibuki.

Nurses demonstrate empathy and establish meaningful connections with their patients. This human touch is essential in fostering a sense of understanding, trust, and emotional support. The researchers examined whether the current advancements in robotics and AI can implement these human qualities by replicating the ethical concepts attributed to human nurses, including advocacy, accountability, cooperation, and caring.

Advocacy in nursing involves speaking on behalf of patients to ensure that they receive the best possible medical care. This encompasses safeguarding patients from medical errors, providing treatment information, acknowledging the preferences of a patient, and acting as mediators between the hospital and the patient. In this regard, the researchers noted that while AI can inform patients about medical errors and present treatment options, they questioned its ability to truly understand and empathize with patients' values and to effectively navigate human relationships as mediators.

The researchers also expressed concerns about holding robots accountable for their actions. They suggested the development of explainable AI, which would provide insights into the decision-making process of AI systems, improving accountability.

The study further highlights that nurses are required to collaborate effectively with their colleagues and other healthcare professionals to ensure the best possible care for patients. As humans rely on visual cues to build trust and establish relationships, unfamiliarity with robots might lead to suboptimal interactions. Recognizing this issue, the researchers emphasized the importance of conducting further investigations to determine the appropriate appearance of robots for facilitating efficient cooperation with human medical staff.

Lastly, while robots and AI have the potential to understand a patient's emotions and provide appropriate care, the patient must also be willing to accept robots as care providers.

Having considered the above four ethical concepts in nursing, the researchers acknowledge that while robots may not fully replace human nurses anytime soon, they do not dismiss the possibility. While robots and AI can potentially reduce the shortage of nurses and improve treatment outcomes for patients, their deployment requires careful weighing of the ethical implications and impact on nursing practice.

"While the present analysis does not preclude the possibility of implementing the ethical concepts of nursing in robots and AI in the future, it points out that there are several ethical questions. Further research could not only help solve them but also lead to new discoveries in ethics," concludes Dr. Ibuki.

Here's hoping for such novel applications of robotics and AI to emerge soon!

Title of original paper  : Possibilities and ethical issues of entrusting nursing tasks to robots and artificial intelligence
Journal  : Nursing Ethics
DOI  : 10.1177/09697330221149094
About The Tokyo University of Science

Tokyo University of Science (TUS) is a well-known and respected university, and the largest science-specialized private research university in Japan, with four campuses in central Tokyo and its suburbs and in Hokkaido. Established in 1881, the university has continually contributed to Japan's development in science through inculcating the love for science in researchers, technicians, and educators.

With a mission of "Creating science and technology for the harmonious development of nature, human beings, and society," TUS has undertaken a wide range of research from basic to applied science. TUS has embraced a multidisciplinary approach to research and undertaken intensive study in some of today's most vital fields. TUS is a meritocracy where the best in science is recognized and nurtured. It is the only private university in Japan that has produced a Nobel Prize winner and the only private university in Asia to produce Nobel Prize winners within the natural sciences field.

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About Associate Professor Tomohide Ibuki from Tokyo University of Science

Tomohide Ibuki is a researcher in the field of bioethics and medical ethics, currently serving as an Associate Professor at the Tokyo University of Science in Japan. He completed his undergraduate studies from the Faculty of Medicine School of Health Sciences and Nursing at The University of Tokyo in 2005. Thereafter, he pursued his graduate studies at the Division of Medicine Division of Health Sciences and Nursing of The University of Tokyo Graduate School. As a member of the Japan Association for Bioethics, he focuses on bio-, medical, and environmental ethics. His research areas also encompass sociology and the history of science and technology.
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The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and publication of this article.


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