Microsoft Pilots Voice AI-Based Senior Mental Healthcare Program in South Korea
Microsoft is running a mental healthcare service program for older people using artificial intelligence, voice assistants, and wearable tech in South Korea. The pilot program aims to use the combination of technologies to improve the mental health of people as they age, as a growing body of evidence suggests they can.
The program is based on Microsoft’s Azure Kinect, essentially a sensor kit connected to artificial intelligence. Kinect combines a high-end camera and microphone with other sensors to detect human movement. That information will be combined with data from smartwatches and other wearable tech and analyzed by the AI. Smart speakers will allow participants to interact directly with the AI by voice or by typing on a keyboard, and the voice assistant will offer advice on how to manage and improve mental health. The ultimate goal is to use the information collected to build a better system of care for older people.
“We hope that preventive services using data and information technology will improve the quality of life for the elderly and become a successful model of community care services,” a Mapo Senior Welfare Center spokesperson said in a statement.
The tech side of the program is run by Microsoft’s South Korean team and AI analytics firm BRFrame, according to a report from Aju Daily. They’ve partnered with Yonsei University Hospital and the Seoul Mapo Senior Welfare Center to set up the pilot program at a care center in Seoul, where it will run until November. Running the pilot in South Korea makes sense considering the government anticipates people over 65 in the country will go from 14.2% of the population in 2017 to 20% by 2025.
AI Mental Health Tests
Applying voice and AI to mental healthcare, especially for older people, is starting to attract more interest from healthcare professionals and the AI industry. Researchers are only beginning to explore the value of smart speakers and smart displays in curbing loneliness. Studies by Project Zilver and Voice for Loneliness have shown how, along with keeping people connected by phone and video calls, voice assistants can be comforting companions. That potential has led to other pilot projects, such as Google donating 1,000 Nest Hub Max smart displays to retirement communities in Washington State with a simplified interface for seniors, and Tech solutions for seniors developer K4Connect distributing more than 8,000 Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers to retirement communities in areas with high rates of COVID-19 as a way of reducing isolation and loneliness. Connecting AI to senior mental healthcare was also the genesis of brand new products like mobile robot caretakers like temi or the cat-faced Mylo. The Seoul pilot could lead to more healthcare groups using AI more to improve the lives of people as they age.