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Companion AI Robots Curing Loneliness

By: Zerlina Tang

As AI technology is getting more advanced, people are discovering more uses for them that are really helpful. Recently, people are using robots with AI technology to keep the elderly who are lonely in good company. Robots such as ElliQ, a lamp-like robot, Astro, who looks like a short vaccum, and Jibo, which is probably the most life-like robot, are as such called “companion robots”.

Robots and other technology are seen by some as a way to address the epidemic of loneliness and isolation felt by millions of older adults. Technology such as Alexa and Google Home, Robot pets, are now in use at some California nursing homes to occupy the elderly and comfort them to make them feel less lonely. “Right now, all the evidence points to having a real friend as the best solution. But until society prioritizes social connectedness and elder care, robots are a solution for the millions of isolated people who have no other solutions,” said Doraiswamy, a professor of Duke University who specializes in areas of psychiatry and geriatrics. Duke Today reported that “a growing body of research on companion robots suggests they can reduce stress and loneliness and can help older people remain healthy and active in their homes.” In the meantime, people still buy the robots not because they are lonely, but also because they are curious of AIs due to the growth of technology.

California has produced around $50 million in technology grants available to counties through its Department of Aging, which is exploring and determining what might best address the various problems of isolation. Staffers at the Agency on Aging are testing out ElliQ in Sacramento. But so far, the grants are being used statewide to invest in smartphones, tablets, primarily those that were designed for elder people. USC professor Maja Mataric is a pioneer in the field of socially assistive robots and she runs a robotics lab on campus. She believes the current crop of machines on the market can have some limited value for those cut off from human connections. But beyond that, she believes that the devices aren’t as useful, partly because they don’t have enough personality to address individual needs. But still, they can be a great companion for those who are in need, and these AIs are proving to be beneficial for humankind, which is what AI should be really used for: to assist humans and make their lives easier to enjoy opposed to using them to replace humans.

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