MANY questions have been asked this week about Home Secretary Priti Patel, following her announcement of the UK Government’s points-based immigration system. Some are asking how on Earth these new restrictions will help address UK-wide skills shortages. Others want to know how a daughter of immigrants could introduce a system that would have barred her own parents from entering the country. But one key question has not yet been posed: is Priti Patel human?

I don’t mean is she humane, or does she have empathy for people who might find themselves in a similar position to her folks (or inventors), who emigrated from Uganda to the UK a few years before Idi Amin expelled all of the Asian people living there.

What I want to know is whether she is actually a person at all, as opposed to a sophisticated robot. And if we do indeed have a robot Home Secretary, does that mean we can have robot carers, fruit-pickers and hospitality staff, too?

The theory might sound far-fetched, but hear me out. Patel certainly would not be the first humanoid to have influenced British politics, and she will not be the last.

In October 2018, a robot called Pepper gave evidence to an Education Select Committee hearing about artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution. Sure, it turned out its programmers had known all the questions in advance, but Pepper was not intended to be a walking encyclopaedia. An international team of researchers is currently using the machines as part of a project called CARESSES, which aims to create “culturally aware and culturally competent elder care robots”.

READ MORE: QUIZ: Can you score enough points to secure a post-Brexit working visa?

The hope is that these machines will provide companionship and entertainment, assist with everyday tasks such as making shopping lists, and even perform healthcare functions including reminding their human chums to take their medication. I had the pleasure of meeting Pepper last year, as part of a top-secret experiment into robot-human relations, and while the technology is pretty awe-inspiring I confess I was disappointed with the quality of the chat. However, at one point Pepper starting playing air saxophone so at least it made me smile, which is more than can be said for most of the droids in the UK Parliament.

Listening to the robot answer me with a rotating set of soundbites was no less frustrating than listening to politicians endlessly repeat combinations of “once-in-a-generation”, “divisive nationalism” and “get on with the day job” while dodging any questions that require reflection, analysis or any deviation from the script. Has anyone tried asking Alexa what would constitute a mandate for indyref2? She’d likely provide a more logical response than Willie Rennie ever will.

The National:

It’s little wonder Patel has called for “wider investment in technology and automation” as an alternative to employers hiring immigrants. Every science fiction fan knows that a critical mass of robots in homes, workplaces and armies is required before they can – having quietly attained consciousness – take over.

It’s entirely possible that machines will one day be capable of performing many of the “low-skilled” functions currently carried out by immigrant workers. However, that day is unlikely to be January 1, 2021, when the new rules are due to take effect. These kind of minor details tend not to give the Tories pause. They did, after all, plan for a border on the island of Ireland that would be enforced using “new technology” that was so new it did not exist, and so high-tech they could not describe it.

READ MORE: Crieff Hydro owner speaks out on points-based immigration plan

On a deadly serious note, though, it seems the process of replacing humans with inadequate technology is already under way, thanks to the cost-cutting forced on local authorities by previous Conservative governments. This week, The National received an anonymous letter from a group of carers and support workers who are concerned about changes affecting adults with learning disabilities.

They say night-time support and “sleepover” shifts are increasingly being cut, with vulnerable people being put to bed earlier and given alarms as a substitute for having a person in the next room.

“The use of technology is to be welcomed for those whose independence it can promote and for those who can make their views heard,” they wrote. “We are concerned here with the ‘invisible’ people, those who may not have family to advocate for them, whose support workers and carers voice their concerns and are ignored.”

While it makes sense to have panic buttons or even robots in some homes – such as those of frail but independent elderly folk – these carers describe people feeling isolated, excluded and fearful after being left in empty homes for the first time in their lives.

The work they do might be breezily dismissed as “low-skilled” by the likes of Priti Patel, but what kind of society says it is surplus to requirements, and that people in need of care and human contact simply don’t matter? We already know the answer. The worst part is knowing this is all part of the plan.