University of Alberta prototype showing promise in making conversation
Is artificial intelligence the answer to loneliness in old age? If you ask Ana, a plush bear glued to a tablet, she’ll say yes.
And then the University of Alberta chatbot might ask if you’re feeling OK and maybe suggest a fun activity — like looking at photos of your grandchildren or reading a story — to cheer you up.
Ana, standing for Automated Nanny Agent, is a chatbot being developed by the university that is breaking new ground in the area of emotionally intuitive AI and could one day be a companion for grandma.
Most chatbots — conversational agents like Siri and Alexa — are task-oriented, with the ability to book airline tickets or make restaurant reservations or tell you the weather, according to Osmar Zaiane, U of A professor and researcher as well as scientific director of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute.
“But our chatbot is not task-oriented,” he said. “The goal is actually companionship for the elderly that live alone.”
“We’re great at giving people all the brochures, and they’re just overwhelmed.”
A new online service is hoping to fill a need for seniors searching for private long-term care options in B.C., even as demands on public and private systems continue to rise with the population’s average age.
Route 65, a website hosted by a wing of the B.C. Care Association, aggregates independent and assisted living and care options for seniors into a single database.
Daniel Fontaine, the CEO of EngAge, says he was driven to launch the project because of how often he heard from friends whose relatives had unique or complicated needs that weren’t easily answered by a single health authority’s listed resources.
“They just really didn’t know where to go … they had to go to dozens and dozens of websites,” he said.
Many LGBTQ seniors fear they could face discrimination in their final years
A Halifax researcher is heading across Canada this fall in an effort to find solutions to the fear among many LGBTQ seniors that if they go into long-term care, discrimination may force them back into the closet.
“There’s a lot of discussion about going into care as the final closet,” said Jacqueline Gahagan, a professor and researcher of health promotion at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Gahagan said LGBTQ baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 often faced discrimination in the workplace and at home. This is the generation that is now looking at where they will spend their final years, Gahagan said.
“The idea is to ensure that that same generation that fought for their basic human rights are not going to end up in the final closet.”