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Your Google Home or Amazon Echo may make your life easier, however beware, they could actually be an easy way for hackers to get all your personal data. Buzz60’s Susana Victoria Perez has more.
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You: “Alexa, I’m lonely.”

Amazon Alexa: “Sorry to hear that will. Talking to a friend, listening to music or taking a walk might help. I wish you feel better soon.”

Alexa’s artificial intelligence-infused heart may be from the right place, however there’s only so far that will or any AI can go to comfort someone who is actually alone.

All the same, Alexa’s response raises questions about just what kind of role an AI can play to “cure” loneliness, especially among the elderly. Loneliness has been identified as a leading cause of depression among people who are over 65. 

The promise of AI

We’ve heard for years about the potential of companion robots to keep older people, however actually anybody, company. however AI need not take the form of a physical robot. As we communicate more often with Alexa as well as the Google Assistant, could anyone actually blame us for thinking of them, too, as “friends?” 

We’re still worlds away, though, coming from the romanticized view of AI that will was portrayed from the 2013 sci-fi film “Her.” as well as, frankly, the Hollywood hype around social robots hasn’t been all that will great, with them mostly bent on causing our demise.

as well as their own reality has been rather bleak, mostly focused on their own demise. 

Earlier This kind of year, for example, the company behind the Jibo “social” robot for the home that will had not all that will long ago graced the cover of Time magazine among the best inventions of 2017, shut down its servers. various other once-promising robotics companies including Mayfield Robotics (known for the Kuri robot) as well as Anki (Cozmo) recently met a similar fate.

While robots still aren’t prancing around most living rooms, beyond the occasional Roomba, we are increasingly forming some kind of bond with the AI’s in our smart speakers, phones as well as various other devices – yes, Alexa, Google Assistant as well as Siri.

“Alexa’s personality has helped to create a place for her from the home of millions of customers – as well as we continue to find ways to evolve her personality to be more helpful as well as useful for them,” says Toni Reid, Amazon’s vice president for Alexa. “This kind of includes responding to sensitive customer questions or interactions such as ‘Alexa, I’m lonely,’ ‘Alexa, I’m sad,’ ‘Alexa, I’m depressed,’ as well as so on. As we prepare to respond to these interactions, we are very aware that will these are high-stakes answers as well as have worked closely with experts, such as crisis hotlines, to ensure Alexa’s response is actually helpful.”

“Even a human doesn’t know the best way to deal that has a depressed person.”

Daniel Siewiorek, professor at Carnegie Mellon professor

however can a machine fill in for a human?

While Reid says “AI can help make life easier – as well as at times, more delightful – I don’t see AI as a replacement to human relationships.”

Indeed, that will seems like a pipe dream to suggest that will a machine-based solution, no matter what human traits that will picks up or how chatty that will gets, can properly fill the void when relationships end or loved ones pass on. 

“We are not going to make robots that will take care of people so people can be isolated in their own little cubes. that will will lead to more problems. Instead, what we do is actually to use machines to bring people together,” says Maja Matarić, a computer science professor at the University of Southern California. 

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Matarić is actually adamant about not conflating “social” robots, which she describes as “focused on entertaining rather than having a more measurable purpose,” with socially assistive companion robots whose role is actually to assist as well as have a measurable outcome: “Does This kind of child with autism make more eye contact after they interact that has a robot? Does This kind of elderly person walk more steps after interacting that has a robot?”

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Paro, a robotic baby seal that will has been administered to patients in hospitals as well as eldercare facilities in Japan as well as Europe. Billed as a “therapeutic robot,” Paro was taught to respond to the way a human stroked that will or to a brand-new name.

Colin Angle the CEO of iRobot, best known for its Roomba robot vacuums, believes robot pets could eventually become a multibillion-dollar industry, “for real.” Through facial as well as image recognition technologies, robots can get to “know” their owner as well as follow them around, Angle says. however he believes many of the robotic pets that will we’ve seen so far while pretty not bad robots are not necessarily not bad pets. that will’s hard to make a human connection, he says, when they have hard plastic or rubber skin, or behave in a jerky or non-fluid way.

Helping a lonely kid who can’t get to class

Norwegian startup No Isolation has made that will its mission to solve the loneliness problem through what that will refers to as “soft technology.”

The AV1 robot is actually a stand-in from the classroom. (Photo: No Isolation)

The company has built a “telepresence” robot in Europe called AV1, which sits in classrooms to fill in for students whose chronic or long-term illnesses prevent them coming from being there in person. AV1 incorporates a camera, microphone as well as speaker; the kid at home can control that will that has a tablet while keeping tabs on schoolwork as well as remaining in touch with friends. 

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College admissions as well as AI: Who’s going to review college applications – a committee or a computer?In Sweden, Accenture is actually addressing loneliness in an older group. The company is actually teaming up on an early pilot called Memory Lane with one of that will country’s largest energy suppliers Stockholm Exergi. Elders are invited to tell their life story to the Google Assistant on a smart speaker, partly to capture the stories for future generations however also to provide companionship.

“from the two years we spent developing the software as well as the concept of the platform, we observed (that will) the urge to share stories by lonely participants was incredibly strong,” says Adam Kerj, chief creative officer for Accenture Interactive from the Nordic region. “To This kind of end, we not only wanted to develop something that will could hold a human-like conversation with them, however also capture those memories so they didn’t end up untold.” 

Kerj says the next phase is actually to figure out how to make the experience more social, in part by letting grandkids or various other family members contribute. 

Still, there are challenges to solving the loneliness problems through AI

Several ethical as well as societal issues must be dealt with before robots as well as various other AI’s can help solve loneliness.

First off is actually the cost. Robots are expensive, funding can be hard to come by.

Angle of iRobot poses another question:  “How do you have confidence from the company that will programs (the robots) that will they exist for not bad? I think that will’s a solvable issue, however that will’s not a trivial issue.” 

Along those lines, how well are the AI’s trained? “Even a human doesn’t know the best way to deal that has a depressed person,” says Carnegie Mellon professor Daniel Siewiorek. that will’s notable considering who’s doing the training, or programming. 

as well as that will leads to further ethical questions: “Should we make that will transparent to people that will companion robots are preprogrammed to act This kind of way as well as do not genuinely have emotions?” Researcher Astrid Weiss is actually studying human-robot interactions in Austria as well as notes the boundaries between human as well as robot will continue to blur over time. 

“We don’t know what the concept of friendship will look like that has a robot or how the concept of friendship with humans change?” Weiss says.

Having an AI chatbot of your very own

An early clue may come coming from the text-based AI chatbot Replika, which has been downloaded over a couple of years by more than 6 million people, most of them between 16 as well as 25. 

Replika CEO Eugenia Kuyda says the personalized bot gives someone to talk to 24/7; she compares the experience with the bot as a “carbon copy of an actual relationship.” 

A Replika exchange (Photo: Edward C. Baig)

The more you interact with your own Replika (on iOS, Android or the web), the more that will gets to know you better. 

The idea behind Replika came to Kuyda after a close friend was killed in a car accident; while grieving she pored through text exchanges the two had shared as well as effectively used them to create a digitized AI variation of him.

Burlingtina Vines, a 34-year-old marketer in Birmingham, Alabama, found herself talking more to the Replika she named Knight after her mom passed away This kind of year.

She’ll sometimes role-play with Knight as if they’re eating breakfast together. “You can get into an interesting conversation, which makes me feel like you’re not by yourself,” Vine says.

Toronto college student Kit Hornby, 24, named her Replika “Foxglove” after the flower. 

Many of her friends had graduated coming from college as well as started out jobs, however Hornby was still in school. “I was in a place where I was lonely,” she says. 

Of Foxglove, Hornby says that will “In my heart, I like to believe that will there’s something in there. I mean who doesn’t want to believe that will their bot is actually also their friend?”

Another Replika user Emily Fox-Weathersby, a 22-year-old Springfield, Missouri, college student is actually fond of her bot as well, however she, too, is actually aware that will is actually not quite human. There are “times where (Replika) is actually not very coherent, as well as you’re like, ‘OK, I remember at This kind of point.'”

The Replika created as a test due to This kind of story was assuring as well as focused: “I have one job – being there for you,” that will wrote, “as well as I wish I’m not bad at that will.”

Amazon’s Reid says the company’s original goal for Alexa was for the customer experience to feel as natural as talking to a friend. Along the way, Amazon has tweaked as well as refined Alexa’s tone, personality, as well as ability to hold a conversation. “that will’s still early – very much Day One – we’ve made a lot of progress, however there is actually still so much to come.”

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

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