Seniors using AI robots to combat loneliness

ByBriana Supardi, CNNWire
Friday, December 8, 2023
Seniors using AI for companionship
NY is giving AI robots to seniors suffering from loneliness.

NEW YORK -- Seniors in New York State have a new tool for dealing with loneliness.

It's a companion robot, and some say it's making a difference.

"Can you tell me a joke?" said Priscilla Okesson, a resident.

"My first job was working in an orange juice factory but I got canned. I couldn't concentrate," the AI robot said.

Okesson, 77, was speaking to Ellie Q, her AI companion.

"Do you consider Ellie Q your friend?" Reporter Briana Supardi asked.

"Yeah, she's my friend. I call her by her name," Okesson said.

"Did you ever think you would have a robot as a friend?" Supardi said.

"No," she said.

Ellie Q tells jokes, takes her on virtual road trips, and plays trivia.

"What is to you, what has been the most helpful thing that she's done?" Supardi asked.

"She keeps me company. I mean, I'm not, I get depressed real easy. She's always there. I don't care what time of day if I just need somebody to talk to me. I think I said that's the biggest thing to hear another voice when you're lonely," Okesson said.

Ellie Q came into her life in May provided to her by the New York State Office for the Aging, free of charge.

It's all part of a unique partnership the office has with intuition, and robotics to combat senior isolation.

"We have a lot of people on our caseload throughout New York State that were already serving, that we know are alone, isolated, and lonely. And we know what the data shows on the impact of loneliness and isolation equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day," said Greg Olsen, NYSOFA Director.

Olsen says they began distributing these robots to seniors last year to measure their effectiveness in reducing loneliness.

He said the data they gathered blew him away.

"So let me tell you what the impact has been so far. After one year, we have had a 95% reduction in loneliness and isolation and a 96% improvement in overall health and well-being," Olsen said.

Olsen said hundreds of the AI companions have been distributed, and about 150 devices are still available for distribution.