Can robots help enhance the quality of life for older adults?
As people get older, their ikigai tends to change, and in some cases, they may experience a loss of it. However, with technology, it is possible to address these challenges and help older adults rediscover lost ikigai.
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Waki Kamino about designing social robots to enhance the ikigai of older adults.
- Studying human-robot interaction. At 1:35, Waki shares what attracted her to study human-robot interaction.
- Mieko Kamiya’s contribution to ikigai. At 7:15 Nick and Waki discuss Ikigai's pioneering researcher, Mieko Kamiya.
- Interview with ikigai experts. At 10:08, Waki talks about her interviews with twelve ikigai experts who formally support and/or study older adults’ ikigai.
- The interview findings. At 13:32, Waki shares the findings from her interviews.
- Waki’s definition of ikigai. At 20:35, Waki shares her definition of ikigai.
- Inclusion of ikigai in Japan’s government policy. At 22:57, Waki discusses how ikigai has become an important consideration in Japan’s government policy.
- Ikigai factors and influences. At 25:40, Waki shares the factors that the experts discussed that could affect older adults’ ikigai.
- Ikigai-aiding technology. At 30:32, Waki explains some of the technologies that aid older adults in pursuing their ikigai.
- Ikigai in relation to social robots. At 33:04, Waki shares the feedback of the ikigai experts in relation to social robots.
- Essential robot design features. At 38:15, Waki explains the three important considerations for robot design.
- Ikigai robots workshop session. At 40:19, Waki talks about the workshop sessions they conducted.
- Waki’s ikigai. At 50:23, Waki shares what her ikigai is.
Studying human-robot interaction
With her interest in human behaviour, Waki studies human-robot interaction, which lead her to writing an in-depth paper "Making Meaning Together: Co-designing a Social Robot for Older Adults with Ikigai Experts."
The paper involved nearly two years of research and was a collaborative effort involving six researchers including Natasha Randall, who was a guest in Episode 54.
Mieko Kamiya’s contribution to ikigai
In the introduction of her paper, Waki shared the following quote from Ikigai research pioneer, Mieko Kamiya.
“What can be said from the beginning, without having to bother with research, is the fact that there is nothing more necessary than ikigai for human beings to live vigorously.”
Waki believes that Mieko Kamiya was Japan’s first academic to explore questions such as: “What does it really mean to have ikigai?” and “What makes one's life worth living?”
Interview with ikigai experts
Waki interviewed 12 ‘ikigai experts’, academics who have studied ikigai, including several guests of the Ikigai Podcast; clinical psychologist, Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa, and anthropologist Gordon Mathews.
In addition, Waki interviewed qualified ikigai advisors who work at ikigai centres and organisations where they guide older adults on how to make their lives more fulfilling and meaningful.
Waki asked these ikigai experts questions about:
How they define ikigai.
What kind of factors they observe that influence ikigai in older adults.
Their thoughts on the use of social robots to support older adults.
The interview findings
Each interviewee has different definitions of ikigai. For some, ikigai is all about self-realisation, while others define it as something admirable, such as pursuing one's goals. Many of them found ikigai in the simple joys of life. Additionally, some participants highlighted the significance of acknowledging painful past experiences, as these, too, can serve as sources of ikigai.
The biggest takeaway was that there was a shared understanding of ikigai from a social relational perspective, which involves three levels of ikigai:
1st person - ikigai is about oneself
2nd person - ikigai involves the people you're close with
3rd person - ikigai has something to do with 'others' – the community
Waki’s definition of ikigai
For Waki, ikigai means the pursuit of growth and change. Through her study, she came to understand ikigai as a source of appreciation and a motivating force in life.
“I feel like older adults have more experiences, so they have a lot of time to reflect on great things that happen in their life. But to be happy about certain things, it takes a perspective of gratitude. So there’s really a lot of opportunity for just appreciating things in life, and that could lead to ikigai as well.” - Waki Kamino
Inclusion of ikigai in Japan’s government policy
While the term may not be often spoken about among Japanese, ikigai is a strong influential factor in government policy. The incorporation of ikigai into government policies concerning older adults' health services can be seen as a preventive measure to enhance older adults’ life expectancy and as a strategy to reduce the expenses related to senior healthcare.
Ikigai factors and influences
According to the experts interviewed by Waki, they saw the following factors potentially affect older adults’ ikigai.
A mother's sense of ikigai diminishes as her children become independent.
Men often experience a loss of purpose after retirement.
Many older adults are concerned about the financial aspects of supporting their ikigai activities.
The ability of older adults to pursue ikigai activities greatly impacts their overall well-being.
Technology can also aid older adults in pursuing their ikigai. One example is the mobile game, Pokemon Go, which, according to Waki, fulfils all three levels of ikigai: it is something older adults enjoy playing by themselves, with their families, in particular with their grandchildren, and even allows interaction with other older adults.
Ikigai in relation to social robots
Waki used a programmable humanoid robot, LuxAI QT for their study, which they modified and renamed to I.R.I.S. (Interactive Robot for Ikigai Support). Ikigai experts found I.R.I.S. to be cute and considered it helpful in enhancing the ikigai of older adults. Not only can the robot be a source of entertainment, but it can also become a daily necessity, making their lives easier.
Essential robot design features“Ikigai is so diverse and unique to each individual. The robot has to be able to adapt to their own needs and desires.” - Waki Kamino
Ikigai is unique to each individual; thus, ikigai robots must be able adapt to each individual’s needs. With this in mind, ikigai experts point out three important features of robot design:
Companion and emotional support - building emotional connection by engaging in activities together.
Variability and personalization - ensuring the robot can adapt to the older adult's personal preferences.
Risk management - supporting activities that can prevent the loss of ikigai for older adults.
Ikigai Robots workshop session
Waki held a workshop session where they conducted co-design activities for I.R.I.S. They explored better ways in which robots can be used based on the three levels of ikigai:
1st person ikigai - helping individuals develop more hobbies
2nd person ikigai - improving connections with their families
3rd person ikigai - connecting with their community
In addition, they discussed areas of improvement, such as voice, mobility, and monitor size.
Enter your text here...An example of Jamboard with QT robot images (translated from Japanese) from a workshop.
Waki feels ikigai in learning new things. Delving into the unknown gives her an adrenaline rush, which is similar to the feeling she experiences when watching sports.
With the help of technology, it is possible to create a more fulfilling life for the ageing population, meeting their evolving needs with understanding and care. Technology provides older adults with new opportunities for growth, exploration, and meaningful connections, offering a greater sense of ikigai.