July 07, 2010

The Medicator (they'll be back!)


Only three out of 254 foreign applicants passed Japan's national nursing exam this year. In 2009, 15,382 nurses from the Philippines alone took the U.S. exam. The language barrier in Japan may prove an insurmountable problem. Hence the desire for "nurses" that can be put together on an assembly line. Marketwatch reports that

The Japanese government has spent one hundred million dollars in grants [to Japanese firms] over the last [decade] to develop personal robots for their own eldercare crisis, yet no viable solutions have been developed by them to date.

But Atlanta-based GeckoSystems boasts that it is getting much love from Japan and China because it is

a dynamic leader in the emerging mobile robotics industry revolutionizing their development and usage with "Mobile Robot Solutions for Safety, Security and Service."

Based on what I've seen so far, be prepared to be totally underwhelmed. Frankly, I think a medical translation system would be a more achievable goal. I can't help thinking of two already-proposed "solutions."

In Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, the computer running the Medicare system comes up with an ingenious solution to the problem (pretty much the opposite of Soylent Green), and then goes all HAL 9000 on anybody who gets in the way.

Though the whole concept of an "Elder Care Robot" sounds eerily like the one satirized in Roujin Z. The movie was released way back in 1991, making it all the more prescient.



My brother points out that this really isn't about language. A foreign nurse who would even attempt to take the qualifying exam will likely speak and understand Japanese better than any robot ever will.

It's not as bad as the silly business about Japanese not being able to eat American-grown rice back in the 1980s, but there is clearly regulatory capture going on.

The examination system in Japan long ago devolved into a tortuous sorting machine, not an evaluation of thinking ability. The Japanese equivalent of Stand and Deliver talks more about test-taking strategies than mastering a complex subject like calculus.

For every ministry (and the industry group backing it) that wants A, another ministry and industry group wants B. But rather than debating it and committing to a single course, group B "graciously" concedes A, then renders A meaningless with gatekeeping strategy C.

Like passing a law and then "forgetting" to fund it.

In this case, all B has to do is nobly insist on the "same standards for everybody." The examination system (credentialism run amok) is Japan's "third rail," a prisoner's dilemma writ large, that everybody knows is hopelessly flawed but the entire society is hopelessly wedded to.

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