My Lovely Wife and I usually have shared our home with a small but influential caucus of cats. I had been never a cat person prior to our courtship, but in the 40-odd years we’ve lived together I’ve found their benefits to slightly outweigh their liabilities. On one side, they tend to suppress a button population and offer occasional light entertainment; alternatively, they generally resist behavioral training and sometimes seem to overshoot the litter pan simply to make a point.

Still, whenever I visualize life in our 80s and beyond, I can’t quite imagine us stumbling throughout the house without a couple of cats underfoot, reminding us of our inferiority. Better that than some sycophantic robot.

I don’t raise this time simply to reveal my Luddite sympathies. All signs appear to indicate that C-3PO wannabes are massing to have an invasion on Geezerville. Tech firms, knowledgeable that Big Pharma’s efforts to develop a dementia remedy have foundered — and that the aging population will far outpace the resources of caregivers — are churning out prototypes designed to comfort, instruct, or simply entertain a captive market of seniors experiencing cognitive decline. It’s a market ripe for the taking.

A number of these businesses gathered in Las Vegas earlier this year to show off their wares and discuss the future of aging in vaguely dystopian terms. Among the technical marvels on display were robotic animals to provide companionship, virtual-reality programs to educate caregivers, and digital-messaging services to facilitate communications between clinicians, providers, and family members. But, as Casey Ross reports in STAT, the aroma of looming catastrophe permeated the scene.

American families, Ross notes, are emptying their pocketbooks towards the tune of $500 billion or more every year to care for their elderly relatives — the cost that is clearly animating much of this technological evangelism. “If we do not support the role of family caregivers and value them in this process, there's nothing we can do to bend the cost curve beyond what we’re doing,” warns SeniorLink CEO Thomas Riley, whose firm is creating a digital communications platform.

And most of Riley’s peers seem to be believing that robotics is the answer. From “companions” such as Pepper, Zora, and Paro to “assistants” like ElliQ, iPal, and Mabu, robots of various types and functions have begun to infiltrate senior-care facilities here and abroad. In Japan, for instance, more than 3,500 Paros, a cuddly robotic seal pup, are in work each day, comforting elderly dementia sufferers.

There’s plenty of consensus on the financial upside of Paro and it is ilk. As Corinne Purtill points out in Quartz, a one-time outlay (about $6,000 when it comes to Paro) delivers consistent, focused service. “A caregiving AI needs no sleep, never gets sick or distracted, doesn't have obligation apart from its service,” she writes. “It accomplishes the fundamental task of caregiving: placing the concern recipient at the center of one’s attention.”

And, at least anecdotally, there’s some evidence that the faux seal pup delivers some value to elderly patients. “I’ve been in this field for 25-plus years,” Rudy Griffin tells Purtill. “There isn’t any other thing we have in dementia care today that [is effective] at each stage of this illness.”

But others have raised troubling questions about the long-term impact of robotic intervention. There's, after all, some utility in navigating difficult romantic relationships, Purtill notes. “Is our goal never to be inconvenienced by anything?” she asks. “Shouldn’t the people we love be the one thing that’s worth our time and trouble?”

And on a societal level, she wonders whether this intense focus on robotics will inevitably divert attention from solving the societal issues that created the need for robots to begin with. “The better robots get at keeping us company, the less incentive there will be to allocate human resources towards the task,” she argues, “or to work on systemic changes that could make human care and companionship more readily available for everyone.”

I can’t disagree with Purtill, but I do sometimes wish I could make some use of this impending robotic invasion to produce some system change around the home front. As much as I appreciate my cats warming my lap on a winter’s evening, I wouldn’t mind setting up the law once in a while, maybe allowing it to slip that a cuddly seal pup could soon be relocating unless they shape up. Maybe they’d stay off the kitchen counters, stop toppling flower vases and milk pitchers, and aim with occasional accuracy in the litter pan.

I suspect it’s a fool’s errand, though. The cats would simply switch on the charm until we deported Paro towards the basement closet to cuddle with the kids’ forgotten teddy bears. Eventually, they’d circumvent to puking in my shoe again.