For this column, I think it’s essential to take a deeper look at how AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics will impact healthcare and aging-in-place technologies could improve patient outcomes.

Let’s begin with AI. The late, great Stephen Hawking once said in an interview with BBC that, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” For the record, I don’t make it a habit of disagreeing with theoretical physicists of the caliber as Hawking, but I just might have to disagree with him on this one.

It can be tempting, I admit, to agree with this train of thought when you start considering just how intelligent and adaptable full AI might potentially be. There is also a culture of apocalyptic robot movies that may also get us thinking about the what-ifs.

In that vein, do any of you watch the HBO show, “Westworld?” I’m sure a lot of you do. I won’t ruin anything for you if you don’t watch it, but let’s just say the AI in that show is advanced, to say the least, and the result is as dangerous as it is amazing. But in the real world, I tend to think mostly about the positives that will come from AI and robotics in so many aspects of life and business.

Let’s consider healthcare. AI has been thrust to the forefront of the healthcare discussion in many cases because of the need for realtime decisionmaking. AI could open the door for more accessible healthcare that relies on relevant, actionable data. In the past, AI algorithms were mostly just capable of complementing a human, but going forward, we’re looking at technologies that can truly enhance human activities.

AI and robotics have the potential to reinvent the healthcare system, creating efficiencies by helping humans automate repetitive tasks, potentially even completing these tasks on their own. What’s more, AI and deep learning could improve patient outcomes by helping physicians diagnose and treat their patients.

Research by Accenture suggests that clinical health AI applications could save the U. S. healthcare system $150 billion annually by 2026. In fact, Accenture is saying AI is poised to explode in the health market, reaching $6.6 billion by 2021. There is certainly a lot of activity. CB Insights keeps track of healthcare AI funding, and it is saying there was $2.14 billion worth of healthcare-AI funding between 2012 and mid-2017.

There’s also a record number of startups focused on this space, with the U.S. leading the global pack in terms of new healthcare-AI startups, followed by the U.K., India, and Israel. One exciting company that’s pushing the envelope in AI research is DeepMind, which was started in London in 2010 and then acquired by Google in 2014. DeepMind health is focused specifically on helping clinicians get their patients from testing to treatment as quickly as possible by leveraging realtime data and AI.

But let’s talk about what the industry is doing in terms of AI and aging in place. In the last column, I briefly introduced you to an app that leverages wearable data and AI to produce digital biomarkers of aging. These biomarkers can be used to measure health risks in realtime and provide valuable feedback to a number of interested parties, including caregivers.

Another development I’m excited about is a collaboration between IBM and the University of California San Diego. Late last year, the two organizations announced a multi-year project that aims to support independence and enhance quality of life for aging citizens through the creation of an “artificial intelligence for healthy living center” located on the UC San Diego campus. This will be the perfect setting to bring tech, AI, and life sciences knowledge together to promote research and application development that support aging in place.

The healthy aging research initiative seeks to model the subtle changes of aging and deploy personalized interventions via robots that help support wellness. The project will also use AI to make sense of massive amounts of data, ultimately contributing to the development of a framework for a living environment that allows people to live independently longer, while also enjoying a higher quality of life.

This is just a great example of industry and academia coming together to solve real-world problems, and it will be interesting to see what they discover and develop.

There are several robots in various stages of development that target the aging-in-place market. One is called ELLI-Q, an AI-driven social robot that’s designed to engage older adults, connect them with loved ones, and encourage an active lifestyle. The ELLI-Q robot is meant to simplify life for seniors. It reminds them of their upcoming appointments and when to take their medications and even makes personalized activity suggestions. It’s a cute little device.

Another companion robot called Ohmni is all about facilitating human connection. This one’s pretty cool too; it actually moves around in its environment—as a person remotely controls it from somewhere else. Ohmni is a step up from Skype and Facetime, because it makes it seem like the person on the other end is actually there. For a senior living alone, a home robot could be that friendly voice that acts like a constant companion. AI and machine learning can add intelligence to these devices that make them even more than a friendly voice.

With advancements in AI these robots are becoming closer to an actual friend that knows its owner’s preferences, routine, likes and dislikes, and so on. It’s really an exciting time in the aging-in-place space. There is no question there is a lot of change on the horizon—just in time, too, because the need has never been greater.

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