AI News, Shape Created with Sketch. In pictures: Artificial intelligence through history

Shape Created with Sketch. In pictures: Artificial intelligence through history

It feels a bit dystopian, especially to anyone born before the millennial generation, to consider that a machine might replace our local GP – but it is also exciting that we may have developed sophisticated enough software to improve the accuracy of diagnoses.

It is possibly our next great modern public health crisis, with loneliness affecting our physical and mental health more adversely than obesity, smoking and lack of physical exercise.

It is potentially problematic to eliminate the social interaction involved with a doctor’s appointment, where we are forced to talk candidly about our ailments with another human being.

In the course of research for my book on this very subject, The Friendship Cure, I spoke to people who said the highlight of their week used to be going to the supermarket because they’d have someone to talk to i.e.

Now that we have self-checkout stations, that little old-fashioned interaction at the checkout has all but disappeared, taking with it that vital sense of community it gave some people.

Some supermarkets run special days now where they shut down the self-service counters and encourage people to talk to each other as they buy their eggs and milk: a simple but powerful gesture to reduce isolation.

It is vital that we think about this, and it’s vital we keep asking ourselves: How can we bring people back together, rather than pushing them further into their own loneliness?

Shape Created with Sketch. In pictures: Artificial intelligence through history

It feels a bit dystopian, especially to anyone born before the millennial generation, to consider that a machine might replace our local GP – but it is also exciting that we may have developed sophisticated enough software to improve the accuracy of diagnoses.

It is possibly our next great modern public health crisis, with loneliness affecting our physical and mental health more adversely than obesity, smoking and lack of physical exercise.

It is potentially problematic to eliminate the social interaction involved with a doctor’s appointment, where we are forced to talk candidly about our ailments with another human being.

In the course of research for my book on this very subject, The Friendship Cure, I spoke to people who said the highlight of their week used to be going to the supermarket because they’d have someone to talk to i.e.

Now that we have self-checkout stations, that little old-fashioned interaction at the checkout has all but disappeared, taking with it that vital sense of community it gave some people.

Some supermarkets run special days now where they shut down the self-service counters and encourage people to talk to each other as they buy their eggs and milk: a simple but powerful gesture to reduce isolation.

It is vital that we think about this, and it’s vital we keep asking ourselves: How can we bring people back together, rather than pushing them further into their own loneliness?

Robot companions are just what the doctor ordered

Robots like this one could help make a child's hospital stay less stressful, and a senior care resident's experience less lonely.  Standing at just under two feet tall, the red-and-white humanoid is a product, the Nao, from Softbank Robotics.

Parker, a health care executive, named his robot Boo Boo to better fit the mission of helping injured and sick kids deal with the stress of being at the hospital.

But  Boo Boo is an example of how robots might be good for more than just replacing manual human labor: They could also serve as valuable companions for the lonely or ill.

'He brings a joy and a distraction from either the pain or the sadness or the illness that humans just aren't able to deliver to kids, even with our best attempts,' Parker said.

Deblieck and Goffin expanded into an elder care center in Belgium, where the robot served as a physical therapist, showing patients how to move.

Deblieck says facial recognition can't yet guarantee 100 percent accuracy, which is especially important in a hospital setting.

'They'll say, 'Boo Boo knows what it feels like to get his blood drawn.'' That kind of empathy can be helpful beyond a hospital setting.

Maja Mataric, founding director of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center at the University of Southern California, is developing robot-assisted therapies for kids with autism spectrum disorders in an effort to boost their socialization skills.

She says robots can often elicit behaviors that a child doesn't exhibit with other people: smiling, initiating play and talking more, for example.

'And then the child will say, 'Oh, I know how my teacher feels now when I don't do what she says.'' The USC lab focuses on creating software for these socially assistive robots, or robots that help people through social rather than physical means.

Dr. Margaret Trost, a pediatric physician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at USC's Keck School of Medicine, is working with one of Mataric's graduate students to bring socially assistive robots to CHLA.

She's particularly interested in using Maki, a 3D-printed robot from Hello Robo that can be programmed to talk and play games, to reduce the pain associated with IV placement.

'In no way are we replacing human caregivers,' she said, noting that the robots are intended to help make up for the lack of qualified workers.

Robot caregivers are saving the elderly from lives of loneliness

These support robots are already springing up around Japan, where in 2016 the annual birth rate dropped below a million for the first time since 1899 and a quarter of the population is already greying.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry expects the robotic service industry to boom to nearly $4 billion annually by 2035 -- 25 times its current level.

Though the current generation of these robots are far from what The Jetsons' Rosie could provide, they can still offer geriatric patients a variety of services that fall, generally, within three categories: serving and fetching, communications and emotional support.

It is able to ferry food and drinks to residents from the kitchen as well as keep them entertained by playing memory games to help keep their minds sharp.

And to put those people at ease who may not be 100 percent onboard with having a 4-foot tall robot butler zipping around the halls, the Care-o-bot is programmed to behave like a gentleman, Dr Ulrich Reiser, Project and Group Leader at Fraunhofer IPA, wrote in a 2015 release.

Honda's research team eventually hopes that Asimo will serve as a go-fer for people with limited mobility -- say, bringing a glass of water or turning off a light switch.

'ASIMO was designed to help those in society who need assistance, and Honda believes that these improvements in ASIMO bring us another step closer to our ultimate goal of being able to help all kinds of people in need,' Satoshi Shigemi, senior chief engineer at Honda R&D Co., Ltd.

It helps its human remember to take their pills, tracks their health and automatically answers incoming calls from family and doctors.

It retails for $2500, but yeah, you go tell Grandpa Joe he's got to keep staring at his in-laws until he keels over (or you find that Golden Ticket) because you didn't want to shell out for a little robobuddy for the man.

But for elderly folks who live alone, the services that robots provide must go beyond turning off lights and fetching small items.

'We're already finding that, for some difficult cases of depression, this could be a catalyst that helps people move on and get back to their healthy state,' said Dr. Simon Davies, a staff psychiatrist and clinical scientist at Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Loneliness

Loneliness is often defined in terms of one's connectedness to others, or more specifically as 'the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person's network of social relations is deficient in some important way'.[3]

People can experience loneliness for many reasons, and many life events may cause it, such as a lack of friendship relations during childhood and adolescence, or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person.

Loneliness may also occur after the birth of a child (often expressed in postpartum depression), after marriage, or following any other socially disruptive event, such as moving from one's home town into an unfamiliar community, leading to homesickness.

Loneliness can occur within unstable marriages or other close relationships of a similar nature, in which feelings present may include anger or resentment, or in which the feeling of love cannot be given or received.

twin study found evidence that genetics account for approximately half of the measurable differences in loneliness among adults, which was similar to the heritability estimates found previously in children.

One study found that, although time spent alone tended to depress a person's mood and increase feelings of loneliness, it also helped to improve their cognitive state, such as improving concentration.

Some philosophers, such as Sartre, believe in an epistemic loneliness in which loneliness is a fundamental part of the human condition because of the paradox between people's consciousness desiring meaning in life and the isolation and nothingness of the universe.

Conversely, other existentialist thinkers argue that human beings might be said to actively engage each other and the universe as they communicate and create, and loneliness is merely the feeling of being cut off from this process.

In the UK research by Age UK shows half a million people more than 60 years old spend each day alone without social interaction and almost half a million more see and speak to no one for 5 or 6 days a week.[16]

On the other hand, the Community Life Survey, 2016 to 2017, by the UK's Office for National Statistics, found that young adults in England aged 16 to 24 reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.[17]

A certain amount of this loneliness appears to be related to greater migration, smaller household sizes, a larger degree of media consumption (all of which have positive sides as well in the form of more opportunities, more choice in family size, and better access to information), all of which relates to social capital.

Seniors living in suburban areas are particularly vulnerable, for as they lose the ability to drive, they often become 'stranded' and find it difficult to maintain interpersonal relationships.[22]

In New Zealand the fourteen surveyed groups with the highest prevalence of loneliness most/all of the time in descending order are: disabled, recent migrants, low income households, unemployed, single parents, rural (rest of South Island), seniors aged 75+, not in the labour force, youth aged 15-24, no qualifications, not housing owner-occupier, not in a family nucleus, Māori, and low personal income.[23]

The percentage of people who noted having no such confidant rose from 10% to almost 25%, and an additional 19% said they had only a single confidant, often their spouse, thus raising the risk of serious loneliness if the relationship ended.[24]

and others showing that lonely people who use the Internet to keep in touch with loved ones (especially seniors) report less loneliness, but that those trying to make friends online became lonelier.[27]

On the other hand, studies in 2002 and 2010 found that 'Internet use was found to decrease loneliness and depression significantly, while perceived social support and self-esteem increased significantly'[28]

one apparently unequivocal finding of correlation is that long driving commutes correlate with dramatically higher reported feelings of loneliness (as well as other negative health impacts).[30][31]

Research from a large-scale study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, showed that 'lonely millennials are more likely to have mental health problems, be out of work and feel pessimistic about their ability to succeed in life than their peers who feel connected to others, regardless of gender or wealth'.[37][38]

″Loneliness has been associated with impaired cellular immunity as reflected in lower natural killer (NK) cell activity and higher antibody titers to the Epstein Barr Virus and human herpes viruses'.[41]

Another finding, from a survey conducted by John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, is that doctors report providing better medical care to patients who have a strong network of family and friends than they do to patients who are alone.

During therapy, emphasis is put on understanding the cause of the problem, reversing the negative thoughts, feelings, and attitudes resulting from the problem, and exploring ways to help the patient feel connected.

Studies and surveys, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by volunteer and community organizations, indicate that the presence of animal companions such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs can ease feelings of depression and loneliness among some sufferers.

One study compared the effectiveness of four interventions: improving social skills, enhancing social support, increasing opportunities for social interaction, addressing abnormal social cognition (faulty thoughts and patterns of thoughts).

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