Updated: Apr 16
6:30, the alarm sounds and with some reluctance Eddy gets up. Eddy, married with Marci, is a 63-year-old accountant who took an early retirement as he struggles with early stage dementia. For as long as possible Eddy would like to remain independent, and Marci would like to keep on working. Entering the living room he asks: “Hey Google, what day is today?”. The coloured Google dots light up and a friendly female voice says: “Good morning, today it is Friday the 5th of January”. “What’s the weather today?”, asks Eddy? “Today in Melbourne it will be cloudy, with a few showers and a forecast high of 22 and a low of 14 degrees celsius”. “Thanks mate.”
Interacting while using natural language
Siri, Alexa, Google and Cortana are all examples of conversational bots: digital agents that interact with users using natural language. These computer programs are designed to mimic human interaction and are powered by artificial intelligence.
And it works. Although Eddy is clearly talking to a small round device, he is using natural language while responding, just like he would have to a human. And the more he does that, the more the bot learns to answer humanly. It’s not a coincidence that most bots, computer programs that converses in natural language, get a human name like Alexa. Maybe it is not even a coincidence that these are most of time female names. Perhaps this is due to the kind character of the bots, but a relation to the female talent of talk cannot be denied right?
In 2010 apple launched Siri, a cheeky and intelligent personal assistant based on natural language processing. Rapidly others followed: Google Now, Alexa by Amazon and Cortana by Microsoft.
The anchoring of these digital assistants
The worldwide statistics show the anchoring of the conversational agents. Tractica calculated the use in 2017 and stated that 1 Billion people are already using digital assistants like Google Home, Alexa, Cortana & Siri.
The estimate for 2021 is that almost 2 billion people will service themselves with the use of the agents. Acceptance of the digital assistant will grow as etiquette evolves and capabilities grow, so they say.
Voice will be the next platform
The rise of conversational agents by voice is accompanied by the rise of the use of chat-messaging apps. With a growth of almost 400% (source: Flurry) the messaging and social apps definitely show that people are getting used to service themselves via a voice messaging app: get the appointments for today, ask for a transport request to the community centre, or ask a loved one to call back when they have a moment. Why not do it all in one app instead of using four?
It gets more and more likely that we will start using messaging and voice assistant platforms as the baseline for running our daily life. And so we believe: messaging will be the new platform. Especially very useful for people who have limited cognitive (like dementia) or physical capabilities, as many in aged care do.
Healthcare is an obvious area where voice assistants can make an immediate impact. Various healthcare applications, e.g., care coordination, (post-discharge) care plan compliance, patient/family education, or remote patient monitoring are all areas where voice can improve patient experience and outcomes dramatically.
Enabling Eddy living independently with dementia
For example Marcia, Eddy’s wife, feels comfortable that if Eddy’s lower back plays up again, like in January this year that stopped him from getting out of bed on his own, he can activate his personal alarm system 24hrs. a day. In case of an Emergency he just has to say “emergency call” and the Voice Panic System contacts the medically trained personnel of the monitoring centre who will be there to help him remotely, or escalate in case of need.
Another application is the warning for extreme temperatures, if it gets too hot in the living room on a very warm day Eddy’s voice assistant could suggests to him “to have a cold shower or to turn up the air conditioning". This would provide peace of mind to Marci and daughter Lisa, and save effort of care organisations contacting Eddy to warn him.
Hubert van Dalen is managing director of eHomeCare, who advise and supply care technology solutions for the care sector.