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Can Robots Help Loneliness?

By: Iris Xu

Conversation filled the lively home of 84-year-old Audrey and 86-year-old Ken Mattlin, where they lived with several robots.

ElliQ, built as a table lamp, mainly engaged with Audrey and affectionately referred to her by a nickname like "Jelly Bean."

With a screen as its face, and a vacuum cleaner appearance, Astro drives around the house on wheels and entertains everyone by taking up the role of a DJ.

Jibo, the most lifelike of the bunch, sat on a nearby table next to Ken. Entertaining him with his fascinating dance moves.

However, among the amusing interactions, the robots were seen as potential solutions to address the loneliness and isolation experienced by many older adults. Research showed that companion robots could help reduce stress and feelings of loneliness, providing some comfort to isolated individuals.

California's Department of Aging had made technology grants available to counties to explore ways of addressing isolation, and some nursing homes were already using robot pets. The Mattlins, being curious tech-savvy consumers, had purchased their own robots without being part of any program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some experts believed that real human companionship was the best solution, but robots showed promise for those lacking social connections.

USC professor Maja Mataric, a pioneer in socially assistive robots, developed machines to aid children with autism and older adults with dementia, showing the potential for advanced care in the future. “Maybe you’re slurring your words or not using as big a vocabulary as you were a month ago, so those are early signs of dementia,” says Mataric, “Robots can process that information for a care provider.”

Ken and Audrey Mattlin embraced the AI revolution with enthusiasm, incorporating various gadgets into their daily lives. These robots weren't meant to replace human connections but rather to satisfy their curiosity and explore the possibilities technology had to offer.

Nonetheless, there were concerns about the dark side of excessive reliance on technology and its impact on genuine human interaction. Despite this, the Mattlins found ElliQ to be a pleasant companion, offering them entertainment, information, and even games.

In their cozy home, the couple enjoyed the company of not only each other but also their amusing robots, finding joy and convenience in the blend of human and technological interaction.

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