AI Companion Helps Seniors Experiencing Loneliness

Florida senior community residents, Joyce Loaiza and Deanna Dezern, were some of the first people in the U.S. to receive ElliQ, an artificial intelligence robot created by Intuition Robotics designed to reduce isolation and loneliness experienced by senior citizens.

Whenever retired office worker Loaiza returns to her apartment, the robot chats with her about her day in a friendly female voice. This same voice comforted Dezern after the death of her friend. In Washington, it helps 83-year-old Jan Worrell make new friends. In New York, it plays music and games for 92-year-old Maria Broadbent.

‘It’s entertaining. You can actually talk to her. She’ll make comments like “I would go outside if I had hands, but I can’t hold an umbrella,’ said Loaiza. She had nicknamed the robot ‘Jellybean’.

The device is in the form of a small table lamp with a mouthless, eyeless head that lights up and rotates. It remembers the interests of the users and their conversations, which helps it to tailor future chats.

ElliQ plays music and videos, tells jokes, and provides inspirational quotes. It also provides reminders as to take medications and water and leads exercises. In an emergency, it can host video calls and contact relatives or a doctor.

Intuition Robotics assured that the conversations are kept very private only for the user. The CEO, Dor Skuller, explained that the idea for the device came before the launching of his Israeli company eight years ago. His widowed grandfather required an aide who understood his love of classical music and his ‘quirky sense of humor’. Skuller realized a robot could fill that gap if it could adapt to the interests and personality of the user.

‘It’s not just about (ElliQ’s) utility. It’s about friendship, companionship and empathy. That just did not exist anywhere,’ said Skuller.

The robots can be purchased for $600 a year with an installation fee of $250. They are also distributed by assistance agencies in Nevada, Florida, New York, Michigan, and Washington state. Skuller revealed that the goal is to have over 100,000 robots out within five years.

This is a cause of concern to Julian Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University studying the effects of loneliness on mortality and health. She believes that although it might have short-term benefits, it is also likely to make people seek human contact less. ‘That unpleasant feeling of loneliness should motivate us to reconnect socially,’ she said.

‘AI makes you feel like you’ve fulfilled it, but in reality you haven’t,’ Holt-Lunstad said. ‘It is not clear whether AI is actually fulfilling any kind of need or just dampening the signal.’

Skuller and the heads of the distributing agencies agreed that while it wasn’t a substitute for human contact, but not all seniors have a network of people around them.

‘I wish I could just snap my fingers to make a person show up at the home of one of the many, many older adults that don’t have any family or friends, but it’s little bit more complicated,’ said Greg Olsen, director of the New York State Office for the Aging.

‘She’s proactive and she really engages the seniors, so it gives them that extra kind of interaction,’ said Charlotte Mather-Taylor, director of the Broward Country, Florida Area Agency on Aging. ‘We’ve seen very positive results with it. People generally like her and she makes them smile and brings joy.’



By Marvellous Iwendi

Source: AP News