Detecting emotions and combating loneliness with AI voice assistants

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Software-based Approaches to emotion-recognition AI
  3. Curbing loneliness with voice AI
  4. Conclusion


  1. Introduction

Voice assistance technology has improved rapidly in recent years. With the adoption of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa across hundreds of millions of users, people are bringing these devices and the corresponding technology into their lives. The latest technology can go a step further and instead of trying to have intelligent conversations with you by analyzing your words, can also analyze vocal cues to pick up on your mood and emotions that you are feeling at the time. Such technology has a range of applications that include improving customer service and combatting loneliness. I will discuss below numerous start-ups and organizations that are attempting to use the technology for more than just having a simple conversation to order milk.

  1. Software-based approaches to emotion-recognition AI

There are a wide range of companies that are utilizing voice in order to determine emotion. However, not all of them are looking to use the technology to combat loneliness, rather they are looking to use it more broadly. Empath creates a software product that analyzes the emotional state of the person talking to it. If the software finds that the user is seeming lonely or sad, it can provide proactive advice to get out and reconnect with loved ones. The company brands themselves as emotion ai and also has other software solutions that are dedicated to tracking you or your team’s mood over time by simply talking to the app.

Similar to Empath, Cogito is working to identify emotion from voice interactions. Their software product is primarily geared toward those that are working in the customer service industry. Companies can purchase the software which can then be used across a fleet of callers who can give them feedback on how empathetic that are appearing to the customers they are speaking to.

  1. Curbing loneliness with voice AI

An AARP study found that one third of adults over 45 in the United States have chronic loneliness. Loneliness in old age is growing to be a bigger and bigger problem. However, virtual home assistants can offer some help. People can rely on the natural language processing capabilities of these devices to have relatively seamless conversations.

A BBC article details an academic study where elderly residents successfully used artificial intelligence voice technology to curb loneliness. University of Reading psychologist Arlene Astell states that humans are inherently social creatures and loneliness to be a very negative experience in their lives. There have been several studies that show loneliness can shorten lifespans and even be as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes each day. Especially in the world of living in isolation to prevent coronavirus spreading, AI voice technologies remain feasible options for those who want to have social interactions.

Beyond the Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, there are more specialized devices that are being worked on to combat loneliness, specifically. A start-up called Intuition Robotics has created a robot called ElliQ which is designed to help elderly adults engaged and keep their minds active. They state that the goal is to not entirely replace human contact but rather to encourage elderly people to leave the house and try to meet new people for example. The founder, Dor Skuler, states that his company has an edge in that they are the only pro-active robot that is designed to push people in a more positive direction. Its price tag is a tad steep at $1500, but the benefits could be immense especially if it improves happiness in the later years of life.

Another team that is working on a similar mission is The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. Osmar Zaiane, in a story initially reported on by Tech Xplore, has been working on a model with his team to allow elderly people to carry on a conversation with a voice assistant which will match their emotions and collect information regarding their mood.

A Norwegian company called No Isolation is working on fighting loneliness with a new suite of tools that can help people out of their hole. The company has invented a robot called the AV1 which can be the eyes and ears for students who are not able to attend school physically. This gives the user the ability to feel that they are part of the classroom even though they are at home instead. A similar product called KOMP is geared towards elderly people who can easily receive messages, images, and voice chats from their loved ones digitally. The product is supposed to be seamlessly easy to use and a great success in Norway among elderly users.

  1. Conclusion

The adoption of voice artificial intelligence into our lives could mean great things for elders. Sadly, elderly loneliness is a very real thing and it can go a great way to have anything to talk to. The technology is improving enough where increasingly difficult and complex conversations can be had. So, there may remain a light at the end of the tunnel to curb loneliness in our older population thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions.

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