August 22, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 298 — Leveraging AI to ease social isolation

Getting older can be socially isolating. As people age, they may relocate for retirement, become less mobile or experience the loss of family and friends. These and other factors can often lead to feelings of loneliness, which can lead to other health challenges. That’s why IU Human-Computer Interaction Professor Aqueasha Martin-Hammond is exploring the use of artificial intelligence-enabled interfaces, such as voice assistants and chat bots, to help elders foster social connections. Martin-Hammond says she expects to reveal new conversational approaches that can benefit older adults’ social wellness, while decreasing their risk of social isolation. She says today’s conversational assistants support the retrieval of information, but they can fall short in helping older adults connect with their peers or leverage these relationships and social networks to access meaningful local resources. For example, Martin-Hammond imagines a future where a tool like Amazon Alexa could proactively remind you to call a relative on their birthday or encourage you to go to a neighborhood event that your friends are attending – all by learning about your behaviors and preferences. Martin-Hammond says it’s also important for her to include older adults in the process of designing such technology to ensure it truly meets their needs and motivates them to seek our social connection. The research team also aims to other issues related to AI, such as privacy concerns, on an increasingly aging population. Martin-Hammond recently received a "CAREER" Award from the National Science Foundation to support her research project. She will receive more than $500,000 in funding over five years.