Skepticism toward smart speakers is quite a common thing. The usefulness and security of smart speakers are often questioned, but new studies and common sense suggest that they can be immensely beneficial for the elders too. These devices helped seniors to maintain a sufficient degree of autonomy, but can they be digital companions too?
It is a challenging task for older adults to adjust to new technological challenges because in the past 20 years’ technology has been evolving so quickly and it’s difficult for them. For example, mobile phones are transformed devices with physical buttons which are used for calls and messaging to touchscreen pocket computers. But modern touchscreens are self-explanatory and it is easy to use them. However, the operating systems and user interfaces of these devices are not always that easy to navigate for seniors. This is where the argument for smart speakers comes in. What’s easier than asking questions and communicating the same way you would with another person?
Not only that smart speakers are easily accessible than smartphones, tablets or PCs for those peoples who are suffering from vision problems, Parkinson’s or other ailments. They can be beneficial when taking on daily tasks and for helping, seniors maintain a sense of independence.
Smart Speakers and Daily Routines:
Let’s see what does an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device offer the elderly? As part of a larger internet of the things feasibility study, researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania had installed smart speakers in homes of older adult participants for 2 months. Most of them responded positively to the devices, they often utilizing them for medication reminders or asking practical questions.
But Alexa or Google Assistant can help them with much more than Amazon Echo and Google home devices. When they connected them to other smart home devices, like smart bulb and thermostat, they can help seniors or anyone suffering from mobility problems become more independent. Being able to turn off the lights or turn up the temperature without asking someone else for help can certainly be freeing. The same goes for ordering groceries and other necessities online for them through smart speakers. Nevertheless, those with hearing problems will have a hard time with smart speakers.
Smart Speakers as Companions:
If you are familiar with smart speakers, you know that they can do a lot of task than just order things online and tell you the weather forecast. You can play games with them, ask them questions, request for them to play your favorite song and more. This had led to suggestions that interactions with these smart assistants can alleviate loneliness, especially among senior citizens. But in my view, smart speakers are only a temporary solution.
Of course, providing entertainment and keeping older adults engaged with interesting activities is an unquestionably positive thing. But it can never truly replace a connection with a real human being. Current AI assistants are not at the level of Samantha and they don’t really understand or have emotions. That doesn’t mean smart speakers won’t come in handy for all the other tasks described above, but for now, the devices will remain what they should be – useful tools, not a replacement for companionship.