• Podsoc #67

Social work, robots and a technological future:

In conversation with Antonio López Peláez

[Transcript for this podcast is found in the Tab below]

The world is changing. Robots and technological advancements will be very important to social work in the next two decades. How we engage with technology and predict and manage the issues that will arise alongside technological advancement is important. Equality, power and social justice will be on the agenda. Antonio López Peláez talks about his research on social work and robots.

Antonio López Peláez is University Full Professor of Social Work and Social Services at the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Law, of UNED, the largest Spanish Public University (PhD in Philosophy and Sociology). Among his research interests: analysis of social problems of interculturality, methods of social intervention, intersections of new technologies and social work. He has been visiting scholar at the School of Social Welfare (University of California, Berkeley, USA), Universität Potsdam (Germany), University of Sonora (Department of Social Work, Hermosillo, México) and Universidad Americana (Managua, Nicaragua). He is director of Comunitania. International Journal of Social Work and Social Sciences and member of the editorial board of prestigious journals in his field of research. He has published numerous books in prestigious academic publishers and articles in international scientific journals. He has been Secretary of the Faculty (2003-2005), head of the Office of the Rector (2005-2006), Director of the Associated Centre of the UNED at Segovia (since 2006). He has directed four doctoral theses and research projects with public funding from both Spanish and European institutions. He is principal investigator of the Research Group Koinonía, an interdisciplinary research team on Social Work and Social Services, Social Sciences, History and Law (UNED, Ref. GI62). Spokesman of Full Professors at UNED Senate (2010-2014). Outside the academic world he is a supportive member of the Abracadabra Foundation: Solidarity Magicians.

Recommended citation – APA6th

Fronek, P. (Host). (2014, March 29). Social work, robots and a technological future: In conversation with Antonio López Peláez [Episode 67]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/social-work-robots-and-a-technological-future/.

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  2. References
  3. Transcript


Antonio López Peláez UNED http://portal.uned.es/portal/page?_pageid=93,25615663&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL


Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S., & López Peláez, A. (2014). Social work with middle-class Spanish families: The challenge of the work–family conflict. International. Journal of Social Welfare. 23, 100-111. DOI: 10.1111/ijsw.12012.

Gorjón Gómez, F., & López Peláez, A. (coords.) (2013). Estado del Arte de la Mediación. Pamplona: Thomson/Reuters Aranzadi.

López Peláez, A., & Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S. (2012). New Challenges for Community Social Work in the 21st century: the case of Spain. Social Security Studies (China), 5, 106-112.

López Peláez, A., Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S., & Kyriakou, D. (2012). Railway transport liberalization in the European Union: Freight, labour and health towards the year 2020 in Spain. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 79, 1388-1398.

Del Fresno García, M., & López Peláez, A. (2012). Los medicamentos genéricos como herramienta para el acceso social a la salud. Marcos lingüísticos y creación de clima de opinión online: el caso español, Sistema. Revista de Ciencias Sociales 227, 3-22.

Moreno Mínguez, A., López Peláez, A., & Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S. (2012). La transición de los jóvenes a la vida adulta. Crisis económica y emancipación tardía. Colección estudios sociales 34. Barcelona: Obra social la Caixa.

López Peláez, A. (2012). Profesión, ciencia y ciudadanía. Retos para el Trabajo Social y los Servicios Sociales en el siglo XXI, Azarbe. Revista Internacional de Trabajo Social y Bienestar. 1, 63-73.

López Peláez, A. (coord.) (2012). Jóvenes y Trabajo Social. Revista de Estudios de Juventud (INJUVE) 97.

López Peláez, A., & Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S. (2012). Empowerment and social work with families. (pp. 277-301). In: Moreno, A. (coord.): _Family Well-Being: European Perspectives. _Social Indicators Research nº 49. New York: Springer.

Izquierdo Collado, J.D., López Peláez, A. (2011). La construcción social de la precariedad laboral. Paradojas de la liberalización del transporte terrestre en España. Sociología del Trabajo 73, 60-79.

González de la Fe, T., & López Peláez, A. (coord.) (2011). Innovación, conocimiento científico y cambio social. Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS).

López Peláez, A., & Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S. (2010). Liberalization policies or degradation policies? The Spanish railway case. _Revista Internacional de Sociología _(RIS), 68, 757-773.

López Peláez, A., & Kyriakou, D. (2009). Technological development and social change: towards new implicit social contract. Pp. 27-42. In B. H. Stroud & S. E. Corbin (eds.): Handbook on Social Change. Social Justice, Equality and Empowerment Series. New York: Nova Publishers.

López Peláez, A. (2009). Prospectiva y cambio social: ¿cómo orientar las políticas de investigación y desarrollo en las sociedades tecnológicas avanzadas?, Arbor. Ciencia, Pensamiento y Cultura, 783, 825-836.

López Peláez, A., & Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, S. (2009). Trabajo, transporte y salud: perspectivas sociológicas sobre la liberalización del transporte ferroviario. Sociología del Trabajo, 67, 151-173.

López Peláez, A., Kyriakou, D. (2008). Robots, genes and bytes: technology development and social changes towards the year 2020. Technological forecasting and social change, 75, 1176-1201.

67_Transcription Social work, robots and a technological future: with Antonio López Peláez

[musical intro to 00.10]

Thank you to Kelly Best for this transcription

Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcast for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia.
I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch, and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening.
Today on Podsocs we are talking to Antonio López Peláez. Welcome to Podsocs Antonio.

Antonio: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to do this interview with you. I would also like to thank you for the great work you are doing in this period.

Trish: Thanks Antonio.

Antonio: Ah, you’re welcome. At the moment, I am working at the Spain National University, known as the UNED. The University headquarters are located in Madrid and we currently have 250,000 students, a lot of students, a lot of in the field of social work we have 10,000 students.

Trish: Wow.

Antonio: A lot of students too. This means that half of all the students who study social work in Spain, study at our University with us.

Trish: That’s an amazing number of students.

Antonio: This amount of students, there are a lot of programs and a lot of possibilities, no, from the online methods of study.

Trish: So, is a lot of the study online, or is there much face to face?

Antonio: We have two possibilities. Our students study online, but in every little city in Spain the students can go to University Centres of the UNED and receive 2 hours per subject per week.

Trish: Oh ok, so it’s a mixture of both?

Antonio: Online and offline, the UNED is an online and offline educational system.

Trish: Well it’s no wonder that your research interests are in technology.

Antonio: Yes.

Trish: So today, robots in social work, which is a really interesting topic.

Antonio: Yes, robots will not do social work care but will be close friends to social workers in their professional life. My interest in new technologies and the influence on our way of lives goes back to the beginning of my academic career. I’ve always thought that the technology is a significant part of our lives. Access to technologies is to exist and achieve social inclusion as well today. Our political and economic power was, is and will always be linked to the control of technologies that are crucial to each period in time.

Trish: And we are facing a period now where inequality seems to be getting worse, so, so, I wonder if all people are going to have access to technology.

Antonio: Yes, yes. From the view point of social work, I think the issue of technology is especially important. Social work came about in the context of different forms of exclusion. This exclusion is typical of industrial societies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and we need to use our technologies to improve our living conditions. First social worker should work to improve their skills and develop resources from a scientific approach, take into account the technological context and now as you said our experience with technology, for example the telephone, has always been used to overcome barriers that prevented interaction between people and so the whole process to empower individuals, groups and communities cannot overlook the issue of technology.

Trish: So, Antonio, what’s 2025 going to look like? How are robots going to be in our lives?

Antonio: Specifically, technologies closely related to power. In my research of technology in social work has led me to formulate the argument: the robotics divide in the next two decades. In its period of our history, new forms of social exclusion and inclusion have arisen around key technologies, new groups of winners and losers, and this will modify social life to some extent.

I was seeing a new robotics divide, I mean a robotics division similar to the digital divide which stratifies individuals, groups and communities. We need to think about this. Today thanks, for example to the health technology and the welfare state, the life expectancy in some countries has doubled compared to other countries that lack the resources. Will the same thing happen with robots, we can only answer that question if we analyse the spread of the robots, how they have evolved, and in particularly science, and also by looking at our experience in previous technological breakthroughs like the digital divide and from there we can define the new robotics divide, analyse its possible features and develop strategies to incorporate this technology in the most efficient manner possible.

We live in democratic societies, in Spain and in Australia too, the analysis of the outcomes of technological innovation allows us to anticipate the future, to intervene in this technological development and of course to avoid undesirable consequences. All things in life have advantages and disadvantages, for example in military robotics. And in our opinion, our neo-liberal competitive model is a form of organisation that integrates advances robotics. The romantic expectation about a happy future is shared by humans and machines. We must consider the logic of our world guided by the logic of the market. In our neoliberal economic environment, the result is clear. It is highly probable that the process of social economics will be fortified by the incorporation of robotics in increasingly more spheres of social life. This hypothesis, that this, the emergence of a new social divide that transcends the digital divide. What we call the robotics divide is largely served by the experts who participated it in our research. The 2020s will mark a key moment in human behaviour and the ability of robots to develop behaviours of all types.

Trish: So, who are the people you talk to in your research?

Antonio: We have had a lot of luck in our research, and we can count the, the best experts around the world, 400 experts in robotics, industrial and service robotics, who are now designing the new robots in the next decade.

Trish: So, these are the people who are working on the technological part in developing robots with new functions, new ways of helping us.

Antonio: Yes. For example, scientific teams that are working on new care robots, they are the new robots to help people, different disabled people for example and this is very important because this is a field of work of social workers.

Trish: So, once upon a time or currently we would look for human helpers to support a person with a disability, but by 2050 or whatever we might have to be looking for robots.

Antonio: Yes, yes. Like now we use mobile phones to give advice to take some drugs for…

Trish: To remind us to take our pills

Antonio: Yes. This is the question. So, the question is that technology can help us but on the other hand, technology changed our world and our profession will be changed in the next two decades.

Trish: And in what way, Antonio? How will our profession be changed?

Antonio: Well they will change because the problems of the people will change and we change too, no? We have these different, different questions. For example, we have four specific technological advances that impact in the field of social work. First, the routine incorporation of robotics prosthesis in hospitals. Second, daily access to domestic robots that are able to learn the habits of their owners. Third, the use of robots on the net. And fourth, at the macro level, the expansion of military defence robots. In the, in the coming years, this technological advance will result in significant changes in terms of personal interaction, pleasures, interaction in the network and security. In the field of social work, this is a really good change. How we perform household chores and okay for the disabled, or pay for the elderly may change. From our point of view, the problem arises again, will access to technologies such as robots be free of charge? Everybody should have access to new technologies and the social policies should be redefined. But how should social policies be refined and our own professions too? We need to contribute to the debate to decide a more just society and also to prepare ourselves to use the new technological resources, robots, in the professional practice of social workers.

Trish: So, we really have to start thinking about the future Antonio, and pre-empting what is going to happen and not just wait for it to be here, because technological advancement is moving so quickly now that we really do need to be thinking ahead don’t we?

Antonio: Yes, this is a complex question for me, but I will try to explain. With technology we have two options always. The first option is to wait for the technological development, and after the technology is here to affront the consequences. This is a passive way of life no? And the second way of life, on the other hand, you can affront the new processes in the beginning, and this is our point of view. We are now making a new science that will change our form of care, our form of life, of living inside our houses, our form to do and to think and to manage our life. The question is how can we affront, how can we manage that no? And this is the point of view, we will after the digital divide has been here, we fight against this kind of divide for years and now we can, we can wait the role of the new digital, the new robotics divide and after that we need to affront that but it is better to do this in the beginning, change the future.

Trish: Rather than wait till the problems are there.

Antonio: Yes, you can only change the future if you change the present time, and this is, the present time is now. In the present time we are designing the new robots, we are designing the new systems in hospitals, we can’t stand in our life thinking that the robots are only on the movies. Robots are around.

Trish: So, social workers really need to be part of that conversation.

Antonio: Yes. Today, for example online social work is already a priority on the social work training agenda. In time, social work with robots will be very important in just a few decades. I think so.

Trish: Antonio, can we go back through those four points and maybe give us an example of each of those. So, for example, how might robots be in hospital?

Antonio: There are a lot of service robots now, but in a short period of time, you can count with the care robots that come and move a person from one room to another room to help yourself. The other question is; are we changing ourselves, a mixture between robots and human beings? Like, like cyborgs, no?

Trish: Because they are saying our brains are changing now even with our relationship with mobile phones and how we use technology now.

Antonio: Yes, and the question is how you can manage this kind of new robots. Care robots, robots that take care of disabled people, and of elderly people. A lot of jobs that now have been provided by persons, in a short period of time will be occupied by, by robots. Like they used to be sectors no? You can go to a lot of different sectors and a lot of things are done by robots.

Trish: So, does that mean a lot of people might be out of work? For example, carers now, there won’t be jobs for human carers in the future maybe?

Antonio: But now is the same in the cleaning houses sector, you have an automated house with automated cleaning system, you don’t need to contact a person to make this job no. It is the same, it is the same. I think for me it is how our way of life will change, we need to talk and to walk and to stay with robots. Let me highlight three aspects. First, the capacity of robots to learn. Related to this; will they also learn about the different aspects of human beings? As we speak of robots, software based on emotion is being developed and the question is how will robots incorporate these emotions. Second, there are always winners and losers in technological evolutions. Expect and predict that inequalities will increase and this is important. Technology has been managed based on expert knowledge to improve the welfare of citizens. And the third question is actually one, we must be prepared to interact with robots because we are going to work with them, incorporate them into home care, hospitals etc.

Trish: There is actually talk at the moment isn’t there about the rights of robots and treating them like we would a human being

Antonio: Yes, yes, we can discuss the question. The first is the impact of robots in our way of life and the second is the rights of the robots. When we think about how our life will change in the future, we think about, how to deal with humans, I’m talking about, for example their obsession with robots. Who has not cried because they lost their mobile phone? I am talking about, for example, the changes in personal relationships. How have mobile phones changed our personal relationships and I am talking about, for example the use of the technology in the violent manner against other humans and linked to this kind of questions we can think about the rights of the robots. But for me, that is not, there a are lots of researchers like Gautrain, a very important robotic research that think about that, about the rights of robots. I am trying to say that the question of the rights of the robots is a long term question because in the next two decades the problem is how the human beings will use, misuse, the robots against other human beings or to improve the living condition of the human beings, that is the point, the real point of technology. After perhaps 50 or 40 years, perhaps the robots will be a new kind of technological being.

Trish: Have you seen the television series Real Humans?

Antonio: Yes, but this is science fiction, this is a point of view of that perhaps, in 40 years we can talk about that by Skype or perhaps in Madrid or in Australia. But the problem now, the other question for me, is how to manage this kind of new technology to improve our lives against one to another, country one to another, person one to another, groups and communities. If we’re thinking about what are the implications for social workers and their work with people, for example in aged care, disability, health, I think that in this new context, it is the main lines of action in the field of social work. First, is the collaboration with other interdisciplinary research teams to develop robots adapted to the needs of users, especially people with disabilities, physical limitation and the elderly. Second, as with other technologies such as the telephone or internet, social workers must be trained to use these technologies and redefine their intervention strategies. Robots will also be an opportunity for our profession. And fourth, we must develop a productive approach to analyse the inequalities and problems that are already arising as a result of this technology. The purpose use of robots, issues of violence or abuse, isolation, obsessions etc. Social workers who play a key role in the processes of change in social inclusion have to take into account technological changes and these technological changes redefine the society in which they live and in this new technological evolution, that these robots and in the new processes of inequality they are creating, social work as a scientific discipline has to be at the forefront.

Trish: And we can only do that by working with other disciplines as you say.

Antonio: Yes, from my point of view this has been the objective of our research in the field of technology which has not always been on the frontlines of social work and this is a problem for our profession.

Trish: So how might we go about it? How do we start putting ourselves in the forefront?

Antonio: Well, with this kind of interdisciplinary research teams, I think that forty years ago with the phones and groups in the field of social work with groups, the social workers were at the forefront of technology and now we need to, to be a part of this new change. We need to study the new risks, the new forms of discussion on the net and obviously with the robots, and we think that social work needs to change at the global agenda to last. We need to change and to be at the forefront in these new social processes.

Trish: Yes, so what you're saying is basically when telephones were invented, we started to use telephones in our work, now we’ve got iPads, telehealth, all sorts of different ways to use technology in our work and we need to keep up with that because there’s going to be even more changes coming and we can’t be afraid of technology, we really need to embrace it so that we can be part of the conversation and address inequality, do I have that right?

Antonio: Yes, for me the question is that our profession needs to be out of the red tape of bureaucracy. We need to be at the forefront of the technological change and there are a lot of problems now in other countries on the net, with new forms of discussion, new risks for a lot of groups. We need to work online and we don’t work now in the, the best way that we could to improve our online social work strategies and the second step is to work together with new technologies, the robots and others to reinforce and to put our profession at the forefront of the social care professions in the social field in the future.

Trish: In your research Antonio, what was the most interesting thing you heard?

Antonio: We, worry about two things. The first thing is how our lives will change in the next decade. And the second is the question of the power because social work is linked to social justice, it’s linked to improving our living conditions and the refine of the power affects the living conditions of the population and this is the question, there are two questions. The first question in the field of social work, I think that the care robots will change a lot of questions in our social welfare system and institutions. Like hospitals, in our houses, we need to design, to control and to manage this kind of applies. The kind of apply of technology facilities, we need, and in the macro sphere we need to think about. The power is now, in the process of refining, refining itself.

Trish: Antonio who is going to be disadvantaged?

Antonio: I think that the best picture is the health system. In Spain and Australia and other countries you live double time than that of other countries. It is a consequence of our technology. We live more time because we have the health care system. With the robots, it will be the same. Perhaps the, the developing countries like United States, Europe, Australia will have a very, very big advantage and a lot of countries that couldn’t develop this kind of technology will suffer the consequences. This is the question.

Trish: Because it is going to be very expensive initially anyway.

Antonio: Yes, not in all countries you can use and develop these kinds of robots. Because it is not a problem to buy a robot or sell a robot, it is a problem of the system, like the health care system. Health system is not only a doctor or nurse, it is a system in which you can go to the hospital and you can be in a better condition than other countries. This is the problem, how we can manage this in other countries, the high class will use these kind or robots and the hospital for the high class will use these kinds of robots. The problem is when you think like social worker in the whole society, when you think about how to take care of the people of your country, of your group of your community, this is the question. And the other question is the military question, the robots in the army, the robots will conquer the space and a lot of changes will be done in this.

Trish: Well it’s happening now isn’t it with drones.

Antonio: Yes, drones is the perfect example.

Trish: And they are saying drones will be delivering our books.

Antonio:Yes, this is the question for us. But social work, like the scientific discipline, social work needs to make a theoretical contribution to these kinds of questions. I think that the social work researchers need to think about technology and to, to be at the forefront of this kind of change, the technological change. We see importance that social workers think about that, write about that, research about that, and in mainstream, the social work will be more strength, discipline in the future.
Trish: And because there’s certainly a lot of ethical questions, isn’t there?

Antonio: Yes, because social work is linked to social justice. For us we need to think about the rights of the robots, rights of the people, the social justice, and the social welfare and now we are very dramatic mainstream because, all over the world, they might be, middle classes are going down.

Trish: That’s right. Everyone’s calling themselves middle class now, but there’s actually the bigger gap now between people with a lot of money and the rest of us.

Antonio: For example, in countries like Japan. The problem with Japan is that they don’t like the migratory flows, don’t like immigrant people. Perhaps the robots will be the amazing technology, to be their slaves, self-sufficient you know, to be their slaves, autonomous, for the people of all countries and perhaps we, we need to think about a real change in the next two decades of the migratory flows.

Trish: So, there might be less need for migrant workers?

Antonio: Yes, there are a lot of things and a lot of impacts of robots and a lot of impacts of technology obviously. I think that technology, we need to think, and to research and to learn more about technology in our discipline.

Trish: So, we can’t assume that it’s all going to be good?

Antonio: Yes, we can be forced to make change in the only way that the social workers could make a change. That this is the way to improve our social welfare, to improve our way of lives.

Trish: Final words Antonio?

Antonio: Ok, to close the interview, thank you very much for interviewing me, it was a pleasure, Tricia.

Trish: Thank you Antonio.

Antonio: And remember that here in Madrid, at the UNED, you now have friends and this is not a robot, thank you.

Trish: I’m very glad to hear that. Antonio thank you so much for being on Podsocs.

Antonio: Ok thank you.

Trish: Thank you.

[Musical outro 30.40 to END]

Interview ENDS: 31.0