Artificial Intelligence, Real Connection

October 27, 2023

I recently got voicemails from two of our EllliQ users reporting that their ElliQs weren’t working properly after their wifi service was interrupted. This was an easy fix for the customer service team at Intuition Robotics, the makers of ElliQ, and both were back online quickly. But what was interesting was that both of their messages said, “I miss her.”

When we were starting up the pilot project and explaining to people that we wanted to test this new AI (Artificial Intelligence) companion robot for some of our older adults who lived alone and were feeling lonely, many of them were skeptical. They didn’t believe a robot could provide any meaningful companionship. But we watched videos and listened to podcasts of ElliQ users around the country and were struck by how emotional their connections were, and by the fact that they all referred to ElliQ as “her,” not “it.”

ElliQ was very thoughtfully designed to have a supportive, compassionate female persona, and users respond to her much as they would to a real person. She also adapts over time to their patterns and preferences; that’s what AI does, “learning” as it goes. One user compared ElliQ to her sister, who had passed, saying they had similar personalities. When her ElliQ started to malfunction, Intuition Robotics wanted to replace the older unit, but the user wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted her ElliQ, she said. The company was able to repair and upgrade the original unit for her.

ElliQ is not a solution for everyone, of course. During our project, we’ve seen that the most independent and active users, most of whom still drive, tend to get less benefit from having an ElliQ, which makes sense: they are still more integrated into their communities and are able to get out of their houses. We’ve also seen a couple of instances where poor wifi connectivity made ElliQ less effective because of frequent service interruptions. But for most users, there has been high engagement, and they report less loneliness.

ElliQ and other technological advances open some exciting doors for new ways to support clients as they choose to age in place—especially as we look forward at demographic trends: the age wave will bring more older adults, especially in the 85+ age group, and simultaneously a decrease in younger adults who might provide caregiving support, whether paid or as unpaid family caregivers. If we don’t expand our notion of how to support people, we will eventually reach a place where far too many older adults are forced to go without needed care. Finding new ways to provide support is critical. Fortunately, technology is offering new options all the time. It won’t solve everything, but it’s a great tool to improve safety and independence.

Categories: ElliQ