Marble Pedestal: A.I. companion for lonely seniors

Seniors are one step closer to being a little less lonely with this project put forth by U of A scientists

There are some things that never fail to make me cry in a movie. A dog dying, a kid losing a parent, or an old person whose family no longer visits. Luckily, the last item on that list is now a little bit closer to being no more than screen drama.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have been working on a new A.I. program to help comfort lonely seniors. The digital chatbot will be able to carry conversations and even emotional responses.

I love seniors, so naturally I love this idea. Far too many people abandon their relatives after they throw them in a nursing home or move away. They grow to hate the financial burden of keeping them alive, and that isn’t really fair. Seniors deserve as much compassion as any other members of society.

This is where the A.I. companion comes in. If you’ve chosen to abandon your loving guardian or relative (or, giving you the benefit of the doubt, you just don’t have time to visit), the companion will provide the comforting presence of a visitor. Of course, nothing is as good as a living relative. The companion is meant to be more of a supplement than a replacement.

The scientists on the project explained that loneliness can accelerate a decline in health, especially among seniors. Apart from inventing mind control and forcing relatives to visit lonely seniors, this is the next best option.

I’m so glad this project is coming to life. I volunteered on a geriatric unit at a hospital for just under two years, and my primary job was to provide companionship for the seniors. You would be shocked at how few seniors get frequent visitors. I was happy to fill that void, but I always worried about when I wasn’t around. With the development of this A.I., I’m a little less worried. 

This is a wonderful idea. I hope someday it can progress and be available to all lonely seniors, or even just lonely adults. This is one of the best innovations I’ve seen in a long time regarding senior citizens, and I can’t wait to see further developments.

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a second-year English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

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