“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” Isaiah 35: 5. Steffi explains why we should invest in AI and smart devices, or at least think about it … before we are old and frail.

Wherever artificial intelligence is discussed, the apocalypticists are not far off. Therefore, we start today with a Bible quote that perfectly describes the current development: Artificial intelligence is currently developing into an important component of inclusion. Inclusion in the sociological, not ideologically coloured form. AI helps the people regardless of their ability to an accepted, equal and self-determined participation in society.

Overcoming barriers with AI

Around 36 million blind and 70 million deaf people worldwide are currently struggling for inclusion (Source: WHO). In addition, there are a large number of people for whom shopping in the supermarket or visiting an unknown restaurant is a challenge due to various restrictions. Here AI can overcome barriers and promote independence. Let’s discuss a few examples below.

“Seeing AI”, the flagship project of Microsoft (available free of charge), supports, for example, the interpretation of visual impressions of any kind. Currencies are recognized with ease, scenarios are verbalized in detail and the app even decrypts the facial expressions of individuals. Great potential lies here for those who struggle with the recognition of emotions. Field-testing, the app showed some difficulty with the recognition of age: eyeglasses basically made the individual older and also a long day at the office falsified the interpretation of age greatly. But I have to say that I felt about the age of the app that day. However, the recognition of surface textures and writing worked excellently. The speed with which recorded objects were analyzed and verbalized was also impressive.

Aira, a service based on Google Glasses for people with limited or no vision, is also a good example of where the journey is heading. Currently, most of the services are done by human agents. They interpret and verbalize the user’s environment in real time via the augmented reality dashboard – similar to the “Be My Eyes” app. But with
“heyChloe” TM (news release from March 2018), an artificial intelligence that can detect medication takes over and processes some of the human translation performance/stimulus processing. Another good example of the current development, which focuses not only on the healthy, well-positioned hipster in the technical development, is the Sign`n App. This translates the written or spoken word into gestures, thus ensuring quick communication.

Apps and services for better inclusion and more self-determination

All applications and services that compensate many constraints are an important step towards inclusion and self-determination. As John Maeda said at SXSW in Austin, “When you are inclusive, there’s a huge opportunity to make better products, which leads to more successful business.”

In fact, tech companies seem to have less trouble with inclusion. Pay attention to Daisy Playback or OCR, which converts text into a file and plays it via screen reader
voice or connected Bluetooth Braille display. Another good example is the award-winning Braille Smartwatch. Accessibility is common sense in the development of many apps and other technical applications today; true to our claim “Human-first in Innovation”.

Smart home developments

You’re wondering why I’m even bothering with this topic today? Yes, I’m young (relatively young), fit (read: free from diagnosed illnesses), able-bodied. But as sure as eggs is eggs, I will not stay that way. One day, I will not jump up from the couch to turn on the heater when I’m cold. I’ll forget if I took my medication this morning and my loved ones will wonder if it’s a good idea that I live alone. This is a cruel notion but an inevitable reality for many people in an aging society.

While we have already looked at applications that are already available for people with reduced stimulus processing or physical ability. Now we have a look at the Smart Home development: Language assistants and intelligent sensors are almost indispensable in well-off households. Who likes to come home into a cold & dark place, when there is the possibility to control the heating via smartphone from the train and the Hue turns on itself at sunset. Far from any health restrictions, smart devices and the Internet of Things are already making our lives more comfortable and secure.

So, we can justifiably assume that as we are getting older (read: more needy) and our senses become unreliable, drones will do the shopping, robots are going to clean the house and AI compensates our diminishing senses. But how to make sure for ourselves or at the urging of our loved ones that we are also capable of the other things in our lives? How will we emphasize the fact that we are self-determined and are not in need of help so that homecare is unavoidable?

Technical support for everyday life

Smart pill dispensers are one option. Tricella, for example, reminds me of my medication. Live!y also reminds me of my tablets, but primarily this smartwatch gives an emergency call feature and works as a fitness tracker. Sen.se can do even more: No matter where the sensors are located – from the toothbrush to the refrigerator – “Mother” tracks every movement and provides every activity in an elaborated dashboard. HoneyCo takes one step further. The service makes patterns from the data also collected with sensors and sounds an alarm as they change. This makes sense if, as an old person, I cannot get out of bed, pass out in the bathroom, or have not entered the kitchen for two consecutive days, which is my only food supply.

That’s the fly in the ointment! Tricella will peach on me if I do not take my medication at the right time or not at all. Live!y creates daily activation and ability protocols that the nursing insurance or medical service would certainly find exciting. And is it really necessary to inform my loved ones if I brushed my teeth in the evening or just fell asleep in front of the TV? The detail of the information and its preparation in a complex iPad app makes me restless. How much transparency will I have to allow to remain independent? How much observation, tracking and measuring do I have to tolerate in order to obtain the minimum of emotional self-sufficiency that would be completely denied in a retirement home due to controlled nursing procedures and communal dining rooms? My mother would be delighted (NOT) if I am going to equip her home with sensors and track her life with a smartwatch and a dashboard. It would fit the bill perfectly, as in Hamburg over 340 km away from my mum it would give me peace of mind – but at what price.

Privacy by default and design are therefore the most important keywords when it comes to
technology as an enabler for the elderly. In addition to the cost, our maturity in handling AI, smart devices and IoT will determine whether we will be safer, more comfortable or better guarded, until the pattern shows abnormalities, in our self-determined living.

Photo by Rhendi Rukmana on Unsplash

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Larissa Scherrer de Quadros


Larissa, a seasoned marketing professional, excels in crafting tailored strategies for brands. Passionate about innovation, she embraces blockchain and circular economy principles with a motto: Don't wait for opportunities. Create them.

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