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Almost useful: AI and machine learning in our lives as we age

Like the obsessively observant HAL, today's tech is always learning your behavior.  You mention a concept or product in an e-mail – and are surprised to see that ‘offer’ (displayed or pushed) in your next interaction.  Snoopy software tools like the A-word are persistent with the ‘insights’ gained from perusing your text. I see you have asked about such and so – would you like me to order it?  Snooping on your actions is fundamental for advertising and the revenue, uh, continued market valuations of A-words (oh, yes, absolutely, we protect privacy!). Plenty of other privacy issues persist with Twitter, the various G-words (health data too!), and the like.  These products build their value by ‘getting smarter’ all the time about you, but there are multiple well-documented and alarming privacy problems.

Your home should – and can also – learn about you.  Unlike the malevolent Hal 9000, AI can play a positive role in your life. Imagine a fall detection product that suggested after the third fall you might want to take a strength training and balance class. Yes, yes, after falling several times, your iPhone might suggest exercises to improve balance.  But it does not know what’s around you or where you are in the home. Your home security system can offer predictive analytics – guidance about what might happen based on learning behavior, but does it know that your home is filled with danger zones or that rubber floor mats are now on sale?  Burner alert tech warns that the gas stove is left on. But does it suggest (after alerting the fire department) an auto-shutoff device for the stoves?

AI and machine learning will matter for our wellbeing.  For all of the possible (and justifiable) worries about privacy, the burgeoning role of AI and machine learning in our lives is unstoppable. Artificial intelligence – that is, machines carrying out tasks on our behalf – underpins those ever-smarter, ever-friendlier conversations with bots, assistants, and smart speakers. Tasks -- even caring for pets -- should be easier to automate and invoke. Who among the 85 million householders with pets would object to having a two-way video exchange with a dog to get off the furniture (Good boy!), followed by automated feeding? Growth in the use of machine learning – giving machines access to data and letting them learn on their own – is equally inevitable, especially from the huge data sets available from social media sites, camera feeds, in-home sensors, and perpetually listening devices.  

Many tech offerings for older adults are stuck in older paradigms – but change is ahead.  Despite the groundswell of interest in the older adult tech opportunity, AI and machine learning are as yet untapped. The $1 billion PERS market has largely ignored AI and machine learning tech, unless you want to count annoying chatbots that pop up on websites. Ditto for senior-focused tablets, smartphones and cellphones. And note its early mention, though not adoption, in remote patient monitoring and telehealth.  Although Microsoft bought Nuance for its voice-enabled medical dictation smarts, it also offers patient engagement/outreach technology for a variety of purposes, including patient portals, which should be well-adopted by older adults. And consider the growing adoption of AI-enabled voice assistants, smart speakers, and voice-enabled car technology, all useful to older adults. Perhaps the technology that remains silent and is not all that smart about the aging-alone user will eventually be replaced.


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