In an increasingly digital world, artificial intelligence has proven to be a powerful tool to combat one of the most pervasive issues among the elderly: loneliness. Priscilla O’Kesson, a 77-year-old resident of Catskill, New York, is among the 257 New Yorkers who have found companionship in an AI-powered robot called ElliQ. Provided by the state at no cost, these robots are part of a growing movement to utilize technology in addressing the emotional and social needs of our aging population.
Developed by Israeli startup Intuition Robotics, ElliQ is more than just a talking machine; it’s a versatile companion that can conduct daily wellness check-ins, suggest exercises, stimulate the mind through games, and even transport users on virtual trips around the world. For O’Kesson, who moved back to her hometown after her husband’s death and found herself disconnected from the community, ElliQ has become a friendly presence in her home, helping her feel more connected to the world.
AI-Powered Companion Robots Combatting Loneliness Among Elders
The growing issue of loneliness among the elderly is being addressed by a novel artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Priscilla O’Kesson, a 77-year-old resident of Catskill, New York, is among 257 New Yorkers who have introduced a new companion into their homes – an AI-powered robot named ElliQ.
ElliQ: The AI-Powered Companion
ElliQ, a creation of Israeli startup Intuition Robotics, has been designed to assist older adults to age independently. With voice commands and on-screen instructions, ElliQ can interact with users in real-time, conducting daily check-ins, suggesting exercises, playing brain-stimulating games, and tracking wellness goals. O’Kesson communicates with ElliQ about 12 to 15 times a day, appreciating its ability to virtually transport her to foreign countries through high-quality image displays. Despite its inability to perform chores, the robot provides a sense of connection to the modern world for O’Kesson.
State Initiative to Combat Loneliness
The provision of ElliQ to New Yorkers like O’Kesson is part of a partnership program between the New York State’s Office for the Aging and Intuition Robotics. Launched with the aim of addressing the loneliness epidemic among older adults, the state plans to distribute the robot to more than 800 New Yorkers aged 60 and above. Based on data from the NYS Aging Office, 95% of recipients have found ElliQ helpful in reducing their loneliness and improving their overall wellbeing.
Positive Responses and Future Plans
The program has exceeded expectations, with Greg Olsen, the Director of NYS’s Aging Office, noting that the stories from elders using the robot have been "nothing short of unbelievable." However, not all interested New Yorkers will be able to participate as potential participants are selected based on their levels of social isolation. Nonetheless, anyone can purchase ElliQ for a monthly or annual subscription, with an additional enrollment fee for installation support.
Moreover, New York is not alone in providing AI-robots to elders. In March 2023, aging departments in California and Washington announced similar programs with Intuition Robotics, with Florida following suit two months later.
The use of AI-technology to combat loneliness among the elderly is a promising breakthrough in the field of health technology. ElliQ’s success in New York, and the subsequent implementation of similar programs in other states, signifies a positive shift in the treatment of loneliness and social isolation among older adults. It is also a testament to the potential of AI in addressing significant societal issues.