Mixed Reviews on AI Robot As Caregiver

Not everyone is completely enthusiastic these days about the potential for artificially intelligent (AI) robots to fill in as caretakers and social companions for isolated seniors. An Associated Press story out of Coral Springs, Florida, describes the mixed reviews of a robot named ElliQ that is serving as a companion for a few women in their 80s and 90s who live alone. On the plus side, ElliQ plays games and music for the women, converses with them, asks about their health, reminds them about their medications, and even contacts relatives and friends for them. All to the good, and the women say ElliQ is entertaining and alleviates loneliness. Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics, maker of ElliQ, says the robot is not just about utility functions but also “about friendship, companionship, and empathy.” But Brigham Young University psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who studies detrimental effects of loneliness on health and mortality, cautions that while a robot like ElliQ can offer short-term benefits, it could also make people less likely to seek actual human contact. “The unpleasant feeling of loneliness should motivate us to reconnect socially,” Holt-Lunstad says. Satisfying that with a robot “makes you feel like you’ve fulfilled it, but in reality you haven’t. It is not clear whether AI is actually filling any kind of need or just dampening the signal.” Some seniors using ElliQ admit they sometimes need to remember the robot isn’t a living being. Skuler says that while ElliQ may not be a substitute for human contact, not all seniors have social networks they can turn to. The director of the Broward County, Florida, Area Agency on Aging adds that many isolated seniors can be brought out of their shells by something like ElliQ, and her agency has distributed 300 of the robots to senior clients. See how Colorado is exploring caregiver robots in our AgeWise Colorado article at https://agewisecolorado.org/blog/colorado-is-exploring-the-potential-of-robotic-caregivers/.

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