Alexa And Aging: More On Voice As THE Interface For “SmartAging”
I predict every elderly person will soon have a personal home assistant, ready to respond to their every command.
However, that home health aide may not be human. Instead, it may sit on the kitchen counter and look suspiciously like Amazon’s breakthough IoT device, The Echo.
The late Mark Weiser, “the father of the Internet of Things,” famously stated that “the best computer is a quiet, invisible servant,” and that’s certainly the potential with Echo, or the just-announced Google Assistant (how sexy is that name? I like the fact it’s so impersonal—let’s fire one voice “assistant” and hire another without becoming personally attached, LOL), or the long-rumored Apple version, which might also include a camera (disclaimer: while I work part-time at an Apple Store, I ain’t privy to any inside dope, no way, no how).
Weiser’s statement is particularly true when it comes to seniors, and my SmartAging vision of an IoT-based future combines quantified self-health-monitoring devices that can motivate seniors to improve their fitness levels, and smart home devices that can make it easier to manage their homes as they age, avoiding costly and soul-deadening institutionalization. Even better, why not combine the two, as with one of my favorite IFTTT “recipes:” Program your Jawbone to wake you gently at the best time in your sleep cycle, and gradually turn on your hue lights. How better for a senior — or anyone — to start their day on a positive note? (OK, I know what you’re thinking: Better turn on the coffeemaker automatically!)
What really got me thinking about the advantages of a voice-activated future for seniors was a recent story about a similar app or the other end of the age spectrum, developed by our children’s hospital, for Alexa: KidsMD. What better for a harried mom or dad with a sick child than to simply ask for advice on temperature, fever, and the like? That got me thinking that the same would apply to seniors needing advice with some of the unwanted aspects of aging (I could mention here an example from a senior I care for, but that would be most unpleasant…).
As I’ve said before, this would be helpful under any circumstances, but when the person needing help is a frail, tech-averse senior, it would be superb if s/he needed only to speak a simple command or request to get help or advice on something such as the proper amount of an over-the-counter drug to take.
There are tons of other life-improving reasons for such an approach for seniors, including:
- automating many aspects of shopping, as with the Amazon Dash buttons or their new software equivalents
- managing daily to-do and/or shopping lists for those still able to get out and about
- being able to instantly call up music, say, from the 1940s that they’d never thought they’d hear again
Of course—and I can’t emphasize this enough, especially since seniors are already victims of so many scamming tricks—because these counter-top devices are always on, listening to you, and because much of their possible use could be for reporting confidential health or financial data, privacy and security must be the top priority in designing any kind of voice-activated app or device for seniors. Think of them as the canaries in the coal mine in this regard: protecting vulnerable seniors’ privacy and security should be the acid test of all voice-activated apps and devices for people of all ages.
Having said all that, as I noted in a piece last week about what a stunning combination of services Amazon has put together to become the dominant player in the retail IoT sector, one of those offerings is the $ 100 million Alexa Fund to fuel advances in the voice-activated arena.
I’m ready to put their money where my mouth is (LOL) to design voice-activated devices and services for seniors. If you’d like to partner, email me!
For more on how cutting-edge tech is improving lives, see Precision Medicine: A New Social Contract For Healthcare.