Forget the half-adorable pet/half-clever child personality of the first iterations of social robots for seniors. From my perspective, they are an embarrassment that perpetuates the stereotypical image of infantilized older adults. Instead, let me introduce to you an inspiring vision of social robots that could await us in the future. Armed with incomprehensible technology, advanced training in all facets of aging, and linguistic skills that rival humans, this new genre of social robots will serve as confidants, coordinators, coaches, researchers, historians, and medical bodyguards for seniors. In addition, they will have the capability to reduce the loneliness and isolation of old age.
Does this sound like magical thinking or an evidence-informed prediction? Two years ago, I would have said magical thinking, but today I have reason to believe some version of the evidence-informed prediction will become a reality. What changed my opinion was a unique opportunity offered to me last year to participate in a co-design study of the next generation of social robots sponsored by MIT’s Personal Robots Group. This year-long tenure proved to be an extraordinary experience to learn about the research, funding and remarkable potential robots have to improve the quality of life for seniors.
As part of the study, we were asked to present our vision of social robots of the future working with seniors. We were told to assume that technology was available to support any scenario we created. In addition to describing the context of our findings, we were also asked to provide sample scripts of the dialogue between social robots and seniors.
I chose to demonstrate how social robots could deliver “emotional wellness” in seniors in the future to reduce the loneliness and isolation of old age. My approach involved creating five new emotional wellness applications that offered social robots steady flow of opportunities in everyday life to provide emotional support. As you read the sample scripts I created for each application, you will see how the right words, at the right time with the right tone and inflection can foster deep connections between robots and humans. I presented my applications as a chapter in an imaginary training program in the future\ for social robots who would be working with seniors:
(Please note, I have posted all of the pages of Emotional Wellness Applications below. Scroll down to read them. If you would like a copy of Emotional Wellness Applications in a PDF format, please use the contact form below to order your complimentary copy)