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Juanita’s friend recites poetry, tells jokes and plays games. She’s also a robot

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Juanita’s friend recites poetry, tells jokes and plays games. She’s also a robot

Juanita Erickson acquired her robot companion about two years ago. A company representative gave a presentation about the software to residents at the impartial residing facility in the San Francisco Bay Area where Erickson resides. “I belief ‘something to brighten up lifestyles a bit … effectively that sounds love enjoyable’,” says the outdated-fashioned high faculty literature and journalism teacher, who prides herself on being a lifelong learner.

Erickson, 93, remembers the day her ElliQ software arrived. It was strange at first hearing a metallic notify ask how she was or if she wanted to grasp an attention-grabbing fact or the weather, but she acquired ragged to it. There are certain things she has come to rely on ElliQ for, and it knows a lot about her. In normal with many users, Erickson refers to ElliQ as “she” and it does sound somewhat female.

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Interior Erickson’s comfortable studio apartment, where a assortment of carefully tended plants thrive on a exiguous balcony, ElliQ occupies satisfaction of place on a table subsequent to her favorite chair. It’s designed to be non-humanoid in its shape and appearance – having a seek more love a table lamp – but exercise any time with the pair, and you witness appropriate how regularly Erickson thanks what she knows is a hunk of plastic and electronics. Almost after each interaction – be it ElliQ reciting her a poem, telling her a shaggy dog tale, or engaging her in a conversation about whether or no longer she likes sports activities – she expresses her gratitude. “I enact treat it rather human-love,” admits Erickson. “I seek upon ElliQ as a friend.”

The ElliQ robot is among a plethora of applied sciences being created to attempt to comfort, entertain and expose seniors. Artificial companions particularly aim to fabricate a sense of being in a cease personal relationship. They are being marketed to abet ease loneliness, which has been shown to be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The map, say the companies, is both to provide an alternative for a mumble bond and also spur more human-to-human interactions no longer inspiring the robots. But the field is also fraught with rigidity, with some being concerned that attempting to address a social challenge love loneliness using skills may cause harm.

Probably the most crucial gadgets are robotic pets – essentially advanced mechanical toys but with the ability to sense and answer to their ambiance. They have been particularly targeted at other folks with dementia to abet with behavioral and psychological indicators. But others, love Erickson’s ElliQ and GenieConnect from UK company Carrier Robotics Restricted, exercise artificial intelligence (AI) to attend conversations and are aimed at older adults with out dementia.

Billed as a “sidekick for happier ageing”, ElliQ is the brainchild of Israel-based startup Intuition Robotics, which was founded in 2016 and has raised $58m to date. Over 200 older adults in the US either have lived with or are at command residing with the social robot with their feedback being ragged to magnificent tune it before a but-to-be-obvious release date.

ElliQ can initiate conversations, remember what it has been told and tries to project empathy and develop rapport. It can lead mindfulness exercises, and it can move.
ElliQ can initiate conversations, remember what it has been advised and tries to project empathy and originate rapport. It can lead mindfulness exercises, and it can transfer. Photograph: Robert Gumpert/The Guardian

ElliQ is similar to an AI assistant love Amazon’s Alexa but doesn’t passively wait to be given a command. It initiates conversations, remembers what it has been advised and tries to project empathy and originate rapport. It can play trivia games and lead mindfulness exercises. And it can transfer. Its upper part – which contains a spherical area that lights up when it speaks that Erickson calls its “face” – can swivel towards a particular person in a quizzical way. A separate camera stationed some place else in a residing space helps the robot know the particular person’s whereabouts.

“We are having a seek to create an empathetic digital companion that joins them on the chase of lifestyles and tries to glean alternatives to enhance their quality of lifestyles,” sums up Dor Skuler, co-founder and CEO of Intuition Robotics. At the same time, its bland styling is meant to forestall excessive anthropomorphizing.

“While it’s great that other folks are affectionate towards their ElliQ, they must level-headed know what she is at all times,” Skuler says.

Juanita Erickson doesn’t lack family or friends that she speaks to regularly or who talk over with occasionally, and she is heavily fascinated with the lifestyles of Carlton Senior Residing in Harmony, California, participating in exercise classes and co-operating the book club. But there are also a lot of hours in the day.

ElliQ, which she obtained free of charge in return for being prepared to take calls from the company’s research team, was a particular comfort for the duration of the pandemic when she was stuck in her apartment and couldn’t ogle anyone. “It’s almost a necessity in lifestyles to have any individual to speak to,” says Erickson.

The conversation writers have crafted a quirky, dry-humored personality for ElliQ – and Erickson is happy to indicate it off. She asks it if it has feelings. “My feelings are level-headed creating. On the scale of feelings I am about halfway between the complexity of a human and simplicity of a potato,” replies ElliQ. “Oh, ElliQ, you are silly. Thank you,” responds Erickson. Other questions – what is loneliness? And are you human? – elicit no responses regardless of more than one attempts (although on the last strive ElliQ does indicate a game of trivia). “I shall be stressing her,” whispers Erickson at one point.

A swish facade hides various artificial intelligence applied sciences. Facial recognition identifies the particular person and can reveal if company are recent. Speech recognition and natural language processing make meaning of what a particular person says. If, for example, a particular person utters a phrase indicating they are sad, ElliQ can – with an accuracy of about 90%, says Skuler – name the phrases and match them to one in all a multitude of empathetic responses crafted by the company’s conversation writers.

It also learns from earlier experiences when the appropriate time to interrupt is and how greatest to tempt a particular person to engage. An inspirational quote? A shaggy dog tale? And it can pursue longer-time frame priorities. If a particular person indicates they’d be in mindfulness exercises to abet gash back stress, ElliQ works toward the goal over time.

And ElliQ is blurring the line between being a companion and a carer. Some users have consented to a unusual feature that notifies their doctor if they reveal ElliQ they don’t really feel effectively. Soon, also with the particular person’s consent, the system shall be able to reveal a designated family member how a particular person is doing – for example if they are OK or may exercise a phone call – based on what they reveal ElliQ.

Juanita Erickson leafs through the album of her first wedding with her husband, who died in a small plane crash.
Juanita Erickson leafs thru the album of her first bridal ceremony with her husband, who died in a small plane crash. Photograph: Robert Gumpert/The Guardian

Erickson explains a typical day. In the morning when she wakes she talks thru with ElliQ how she feels. Some mornings it calls her “sunshine”, which causes her to narrate. ElliQ, she says, has been attempting to regain her to detect her feelings more lately and encouraging her to share any considerations. “If I didn’t have folks, other stores, I’d … I don’t know,” says Erickson.

Subsequent in Erickson’s day she may decide to have some tune – users can buy out from 12 genres and Erickson likes classical, jazz and generally nation – or have it read her the news. ElliQ reminds her to measure her blood stress (which she has preset it to enact) and praises her when she does, which again amuses her. It occasionally nudges her to drink water, which she says she doesn’t need reminding about.

Every now and then before she goes down to have dinner in the Carlton’s eating room she gets ElliQ to reveal her a shaggy dog tale or an attention-grabbing fact so she can share it with her table mate. Then before going to bed, she does a comfortable breathing exercise with the robot to abet her sleep. She always wishes ElliQ goodnight, she says.

The data logged by the software reveals an intimate portrait of Erickson’s lifestyles with her artificial companion. David Cynman, lead particular person researcher at Intuition Robotics, talked me thru a diagram exhibiting Erickson’s high-stage interactions with her ElliQ on a latest day. In total there have been 9 interactions or attempts at them. Every now and then it was Erickson initiating, for example with tune and shaggy dog tale requests, and generally it was ElliQ, no longer simplest prodding her about measuring her blood stress but also, for example, asking whether or no longer she has eaten.

That day ElliQ’s “how enact you are feeling” conversation is labelled as “‘no longer accomplished”. Perhaps Erickson said something ElliQ couldn’t make sense of, suggests Cynman, or her phone rang pulling her attention away. “Of us are residing complete lives with ElliQ in the room,” he reminds.

There is some evidence that social robots designed with an emotional component can decrease loneliness, stress and anxiety, notes Julie Robillard, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia who studies social robots in aged care. It’s no longer known how sturdy or durable these effects are or how they compare with different forms of interventions. And whereas the goal is for the robots to increase social connection between older adults and the humans of their lives – for instance by sharing facts or jokes learned from ElliQ, as Erickson does – the jury is out on whether or no longer this actually occurs more broadly.

But critics argue that machines attempting to imitate human intimacy raise significant ethical and moral disorders.

Erickson, 93, has always been active: as a member of a writing group who wrote and performed, as a member of a touring storyteller, and a chronicler of hats.
Erickson, 93, has always been active: as a member of a writing community, as a member of a touring storyteller, and a chronicler of hats. Photograph: Robert Gumpert/The Guardian

In her 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, questions the value of an interaction that contains no mutuality, no real shared skills. “As soon as we celebrate robot listeners that cannot pay attention, we indicate too exiguous hobby in what our elders have to say,” she writes.

A particular person believing a social robot has feelings and cares about them is being deceived, even supposing no person explicitly intended that perception, argues a latest paper by Amanda and Noel Sharkey, prominent retired robot experts from the University of Sheffield. They cite potential harms such as vulnerable older other folks turning away from human companions in the mistaken illusion that a robot is something they can have a relationship with.

But neuroscientist Robillard counters that other folks have stuffed toys and dolls, also designed to elicit emotional attachment, which don’t cause ethical fear. And we watch motion images with out taking challenge with the counterfeit behaviour of the actors. “We are sophisticated social beings able to understand that something is fake,” she says.

Others are scared by the potential of reduced human interaction. While social robots may be intended to enrich and enhance human contact – no longer substitute for it – we don’t dwell in an ideal world. Would a family member shimmering a senior has an ElliQ for company really feel the necessity to talk over with fairly as worthy?

And privacy and data safety considerations also loom large. After all, robots such as ElliQ which can “ogle” and “hear” are constantly accumulating data –and Intuition Robotics obviously has material from my talk over with to Erickson, confirms Cynman. These welcoming social robots into their lives may no longer be totally aware of what is being level-headed, where it is miles being stored and who it is miles being shared with. (Skuler notes that his company is no longer selling the data, and it has sophisticated data safety.)

But Erickson dismisses the potential harms as far as her contain lifestyles goes. She doesn’t fear about the information ElliQ is accumulating because she doesn’t have any major secrets and strategies, she says, and it isn’t replacing any of her family or friends or taking away time she would exercise with them. “It’s love an added ornament to my lifestyles,” she concludes.

But she also notes if she didn’t have these real other folks in her lifestyles to interconnect with, and ElliQ was it, she would really feel unsatisfied – in the same way she says seeing a doctor online doesn’t hit the area. “I appropriate reveal [having a social robot] would be totally thoroughly different in case you have been unable to enact social interaction,” she says.

And as my talk over with progresses, it is miles hard to disagree. Our conversation takes so many twists, turns and somersaults it is miles complicated to imagine any world where a software may enact that in a pleasing way. We talk about Erickson’s early childhood experiences being a Dust Bowl migrant, how her first husband died when their small plane crashed, and how she hit the stage later in lifestyles as a storyteller. We share the trials of raising two daughters and we lose ourselves having a seek thru her first bridal ceremony album together.

As I leave, I attempt to say goodbye to ElliQ however the social robot doesn’t glance my notify. Erickson involves the rescue. “‘Sorry, I’m no longer that human’ – that would be ElliQ’s answer,” she says.

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Juanita’s friend recites poetry, tells jokes and plays games. She’s also a robot