AI companion robots: A potential remedy for the loneliness epidemic – Neuroscience News

Summary: A new report suggests that AI-enhanced companion robots could ease the growing epidemic of loneliness.

The study outlines the need for ethical considerations and guidelines regarding their use and also proposes a new way to measure the impact of a companion robot.

The researchers suggest that these robots could be an immediate solution for isolated individuals with no other options.

Main aspects:

  1. Loneliness, which affects about a third of the world’s population, carries serious health risks comparable to those of smoking.
  2. AI-enhanced pet bots can engage in more spontaneous conversations and mimic the voices of loved ones, helping to reduce stress and loneliness.
  3. The “Companion Robot Impact Scale” proposal aims to quantify the benefits of companion robots on physical health and loneliness.

Source: Duke

AI-enhanced companion robots may one day help alleviate the loneliness epidemic, suggests a new report from researchers at Auckland, Duke and Cornell universities.

Their report, which appeared in the July 12 issue of Science Robotics, maps some of the ethical considerations for governments, policy makers, technologists, and clinicians, and urges stakeholders to come together to rapidly develop guidelines for real-world trust, agency, engagement, and effectiveness.

This shows a robot and a man alone.
While it’s increasingly difficult to make new friends as an adult to help offset loneliness, creating a robot companion to support socially isolated seniors may prove to be a promising solution. Credit: Neuroscience News

It also proposes a new way to measure whether a companion robot is helping someone.

Right now, all the evidence points to having a true friend is your best bet, said Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, a professor of psychiatry and geriatrics at Duke University and a fellow at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

But until society prioritizes social connection and elder care, robots are a solution for the millions of isolated people who have no other solution.

The number of Americans without close friends has quadrupled since 1990, according to the Survey Center on American Life. Increased loneliness and social isolation can affect one-third of the world’s population and have serious health consequences, such as an increased risk of mental illness, obesity, dementia and premature death.

Loneliness can even be as damaging a health factor as smoking cigarettes, according to US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy, MD

While it’s increasingly difficult to make new friends as an adult to help offset loneliness, creating a robot companion to support socially isolated seniors may prove to be a promising solution.

AI offers exciting opportunities to give companion robots greater abilities to build social connections, said Elizabeth Broadbent, Ph.D., professor of psychological medicine at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

But we must be careful about building rules to ensure they are moral and trustworthy.

Social bots like ElliQ have had thousands of interactions with human users, nearly half of which were related to simple companionship, including companionship over a cup of tea or coffee.

A growing body of research on pet robots suggests they can reduce stress and loneliness and can help older people stay healthy and active in their homes.

Newer robots integrated with advanced AI programs can foster stronger social connections with humans than previous generations of robots.

Generative AI like ChatGPT, which relies on large language patterns, allows bots to engage in more spontaneous conversations and even mimic the voices of old friends and loved ones who have passed away.

Physicians are also mostly on board, the authors point out. A Sermo survey of 307 healthcare professionals in Europe and the US showed that 69% of doctors agreed that social robots could provide companionship, ease isolation and potentially improve patients’ mental health. St

Eighty percent of doctors also believe that insurance companies should cover the cost of pet robots if they prove to be an effective supplement to friendship. How to measure a robot’s impact, however, remains complicated.

This lack of measurability highlights the need to develop patient-rated outcome measures, such as the one developed by the authors.

The Companion Robot Impact Scale (Co-Bot-I-7) aims to establish the impact on physical health and loneliness and is showing that companion machines could already prove effective.

Early results from Broadbents’ lab, for example, find that friendly androids help reduce stress and even promote skin healing after a minor injury.

With the right ethical guidelines, the authors conclude in their report, we may be able to build on current work to use robots to create a healthier society.

In addition to Dr. Doraiswamy and Professor Broadbent, study authors include Mark Billinghurst, Ph.D., and Samantha Boardman, MD

Professor Broadbent and Dr Doraiswamy have served as consultants to Sermo and to technology companies. Dr Doraiswamy, Professor Broadbent and Dr Boardman are co-developers of the Co-Bot-I-7 scale.

About this news about AI research, robotics and loneliness

Author: Dan Vahaba
Source: Duke
Contact: Dan Vahaba – Duke
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Access closed.
“Improving Social Connection with Companion Robots Employing Artificial Intelligence” by Murali Doraiswamy et al. Scientific robotics


Enhance social connection with fellow robots employing artificial intelligence

AI-powered companion robots may usher in a new science of social connectedness that requires the development of ethical frameworks.

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