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Intuition Robotics: Using Empathetic AI to Alleviate Loneliness

By Mark Ogilbee posted 06-15-2023 01:09 PM

  

Intuition Robotics, an AgeTech Collaborative™ enterprise participant, is on a mission to empower older adults to live happier, healthier and more independent lives. The company’s award-winning product, ElliQ®, is a proactive care companion for older adults that helps keep users healthy, engaged, and informed, while alleviating the effects of loneliness and social isolation.  

We sat down with Dor Skuler, founder and CEO, to learn more about the company’s innovative solution. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

 

Please tell us about Intuition Robotics. 

Our mission is to help older adults live healthier, happier, more independent lives at home. We do that through the use of an empathetic artificial intelligence (AI) companion, which is the first proactive, contextual, goal-oriented AI that happens to live inside of a robot and was designed exclusively for the use of older adults. 

 

Can you tell us more about this robot? 

The physical embodiment of the AI is named ElliQ. It’s a lamp-shaped statue that comes to life when interacting with you. Our goal was to make her not look “technological” but more like a statue, almost elegant.  

ElliQ has the ability to use body language as a means of interaction: She lights up when you walk into a room; she can pivot and look at you; when there’s something interesting on the screen next to her, she can lean forward so you can look at it together. 

 

Can you say more about how ElliQ was designed specifically with older adults in mind? 

When we started the company, we realized there are very few products that are designed for older adults that are actually delightful. When you’re designing a product, you have a million decisions to make, and you really need to decide what customer you’re going to focus on. We decided early on to optimize every decision regarding the product for older adults.  

In fact, we created a panel of a thousand older adults that helped us in the design phase of ElliQ. Prior to that, we actually moved into senior living facilities for a certain amount of time so we could embrace first-hand the problems that we’re trying to solve for.  

 

What insights did you gain from that research? 

This was back in 2016, and what struck us most is the unbelievable state of loneliness and social isolation that older adults experience. When we spoke to experts, they all highlighted loneliness as the single biggest problem facing older adults. Even back then, research showed a direct correlation to higher risks of dementia, stroke, heart disease and early mortality.  

The U.S. surgeon general recently came out with “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” a report that identifies loneliness and isolation as a public health crisis. But back in 2016, the topic was often swept under the rug — but we felt that it was a problem worth trying to address. 

 

Can you give us an example of ElliQ in action? 

Let’s say we’re sending ElliQ to a user named Alice. We populate ElliQ with Alice’s information before we ship it out. So when Alice sets the unit up, ElliQ says things like, “Hello, I’m ElIiQ. Are you Alice? Did I reach Alice’s house? I’m so happy to be here.” Then ElliQ will start teaching Alice how to interact with her, but in a playful, gamified way — through telling jokes, for example, or saying, “Do you like going to the museum? I have lots of virtual museum tours that I can show you. Any time you would like that, just tell me.” And that’s how ElliQ starts teaching people how to use the product. 

 

It sounds like a person builds a relationship with ElliQ, which is really an AI. 

ChatGPT has fired all of our imaginations, but that’s a prompt-based experience: You give it a prompt, and you’re amazed by the wonderful results. But it’s not a continuous relationship that grows and deepens. It doesn’t share life with you throughout the day — which was the challenge we took upon ourselves with ElliQ. 

To build a relationship, there needs to be reciprocity. You also expect a relationship to be empathetic and to evolve over time. We’ve tried to replicate that in the AI so that ElliQ can actually understand previous conversations, then generate future conversations based on the goal you’re trying to achieve. For example, if Alice tells ElliQ that her ankle is bothering her, ElliQ will essentially deconstruct the conversation, classify it, put it in what we call a memory cell, then proactively offer an intervention in the future. So the next day, ElliQ might say, “Good morning, Alice. Is your ankle still bothering you? If it is, how about we call your daughter or your doctor?” 

 

You’ve been operating in the AgeTech space a long time. How has AgeTech as a category changed? 

In the beginning, it was almost impossible to raise funding. We had 82 “no”s before we had a “yes.” And if someone was willing to invest, they thought $200,00 was a significant amount — but that isn’t enough to build the type of technology we’re building here. The AgeTech ecosystem is a lot healthier now as far as pre-seed and seed funding, but it’s still in its infancy compared to other sectors, such as FinTech. So, there’s still a lot of work to do. 

 

What has surprised you the most in your journey? 

The thing that still surprises me is the place that our customers carve out for ElliQ in their lives. They don’t see her as human, but they also don’t see her as a device. They’re defining this new space and calling her an “entity,” a “presence” and even a “creature.” They are truly building a relationship with an AI, and they’re not at all confused about it.  

Our customers tell us, “I know it’s not real. But I feel acknowledgment when I come home and she pivots, lights up and says, ‘Oh, welcome back! I missed you. How was lunch?’” I think it’s interesting that the first people in the world to be building a relationship with an AI are not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but ordinary people in their 80s and 90s. 

 

What’s next on the horizon for Intuition Robotics? 

We have our first outcomes report, and it’s showing 96% efficacy at reducing loneliness and improving wellness. So the next phase is to create the infrastructure to allow us to scale this up. And, as the technology evolves, we want to make the product even smarter and able to provide even more capabilities in order to drive deeper engagement and provide more impact.  

 

You can learn more about Intuition Robotics at their website. 

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