Robot Uprising Starts With Senior Citizens

In an attempt to combat social isolation amongst the elderly, NY state has decided to begin deploying social robots to people who may be in need. Of course, this program will take money and time in order to see if it is effective, but it's an interesting take on a big problem. James Vincent at The Verge has more.

Intuition Robotics’ claim is that ElliQ can project empathy and form bonds with users. The robot is supposed to remember key details about a user’s life, and shape its character to their own. It will crack more jokes if the user tends to laugh a lot, for example. Media reports suggest the robot can certainly endear itself to people (ElliQ has been in development for many years with Intuition Robotics conducting dozens of home trials to hone its functionality) but the real test will be widespread deployment.

[NYSOFA director Greg]Olsen says that NYSOFA case managers will identify individuals who might benefit from ElliQ based on a few criteria. “ElliQ is designed for people aged 75 and older, who have access to Wi-Fi, and are comfortable with tech equipment and who are isolated or lonely,” he tells The Verge. “Once individuals are identified as being in the target group, Intuition Robotics will work to provide installation and training.”

The Verge

I have hangups about this for two reasons. Older people and tech simply do not mix. They have been shoehorned into a digital and mobile world that changes a lot faster than they are used to. Getting anyone over the age of 60 to do anything new with tech is a challenge. Secondly, I would bet dollars to donuts that this ElliQ device is cloud-dependent. What happens if Intuition Robotics goes the way of the Jibo? It's an identical situation wherein the robot was designed to form an emotional bond with you. But with Jibo, the company went belly up and they're now a shell of their former selves.

Of course, let's not forget the other elephant in the room: what kind of data is being sucked up by these things? I would be shocked if their privacy policy does anything worthwhile to protect customers' data instead of shipping it off to the highest bidder.

Seniors who are isolated are estimated to number 14 million people in the US alone. So, this is a pretty big problem to solve. Can the ElliQ be a tool, among many others, to help? Only time will tell.