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Are robots really the answer to the healthcare crisis in Britain? Meet the new generation of artificial people

Handy: Barney Calman with gloves to help stroke patients

Handy: Barney Calman with gloves to help stroke patients

They look, sound and clatter almost like ordinary people. In reality they are anything but.

Amid hysteria and hype, tech giants Samsung have unveiled the first digitally generated “artificial people” – some of these are depicted on these pages. Powered by super intelligent computer programs that learn to adapt to their users, they smile, show concern and emote, and each program is unique.

And they are disturbingly real.

Samsung’s artificial intelligence (AI) development arm, Star Labs, organized a launch event last week to show what these simulations, known as Neons, can look like and what they can do.

But these creations – and a wealth of other gadgets that can be seen at the convention – are not only designed as assistants who perform routine tasks that we, real people, simply find too boring.

They can solve the growing problem of loneliness and isolation in our communities and even help resolve the care crisis in Britain

Every Neon starts life as a real person – an actor – who has been filmed for hours, talking, moving and responding.

AI can then pull each frame apart pixel by pixel and reassemble as a jigsaw so that the images can be manipulated and controlled.

In a demonstration, one Neon – Mia – is instructed to smile, then look surprised and then raise an eyebrow. The actor may never have made these precise expressions, but the computer program can make the Neon do it realistically.

“In the same way that AI machines are able to record ten minutes of your speech and then generate a voice that sounds just like you, but saying things you’ve never said before, we can now do the same with images of people, “says Star Labs CEO, computer wizard Pranav Mistry.

The Neons appear on screens, such as a tablet or smartphone. There were awkward moments when the lips of the Neons were out of sync with the words they said, but in general they were convincingly human – and it was an astonishing portrayal.

Each will have a name and a role – the yoga teacher, pictured on the far right, is Cathy and the doctor is Dr. Zawadi.

Each will have a name and a role - the yoga teacher, pictured on the far right, is Cathy and the doctor is Dr. Zawadi

Each will have a name and a role - the yoga teacher, pictured on the far right, is Cathy and the doctor is Dr. Zawadi

Each will have a name and a role – the yoga teacher, pictured on the far right, is Cathy and the doctor is Dr. Zawadi

They could someday act as “fitness instructor, financial adviser, health care provider … or just a friend,” Samsung said in a statement.

Is that the goal?

“Yes, in part,” says Mistry. “Sometimes people just want someone to talk to, for mental support.” And it’s an important point. With 1.2 million Britons “chronically lonely” and social isolation recognized as a public health crisis worse than smoking, even a synthetic friend may be just what some people need.

With this revelation, Samsung has made clear their intention – to make robots that will become part of our daily lives.

During the world’s largest gadget show, called CES, which was held in Las Vegas last week, they launched Ballie: a yellow, ball-shaped robot the size of a tennis ball that lets you hear warm electronic beeps as if he likes you.

It is a “life companion” that responds to voice commands and, thanks to an integrated camera, you can follow from a safe distance without the risk of tripping.

Face recognition means that it knows who is looking at it. And it can tell what you are doing.

“Ballie knows my to-do list – and can tell me if I have already watered the plants because I always forget if I have,” says the actress who hired Samsung to demonstrate the device.

During the world's largest gadget show, called CES, which was held in Las Vegas last week, they launched Ballie: a yellow, ball-shaped robot the size of a tennis ball that makes warm electronic beeps sound like it likes you

During the world's largest gadget show, called CES, which was held in Las Vegas last week, they launched Ballie: a yellow, ball-shaped robot the size of a tennis ball that makes warm electronic beeps sound like it likes you

During the world’s largest gadget show, called CES, which was held in Las Vegas last week, they launched Ballie: a yellow, ball-shaped robot the size of a tennis ball that makes warm electronic beeps sound like it likes you

Ballie is just a prototype and Samsung would not let journalists touch it, let alone say “Hello Ballie,” as you should, and nobody could answer my question or handle it.

Will these devices soon become a familiar sight in all our homes?

Experts with whom I spoke emphatically said yes. And Samsung hinted that they might play a much more important role – in addition to monitoring our routine for watering potted plants – in helping resolve the growing healthcare crisis in Britain.

An enormous amount of new technology at the show was aimed at older, less physically able people with chronic conditions, from portable devices designed to monitor movement and monitor physical well-being, to devices aimed at improving mobility and assisting with rehabilitation after a serious illness.

Some simply promise to make life less lonely. And given our aging population, the need for such high-tech solutions has never been greater.

There are more than 12 million over-65s in the UK – 5.4 million older than 75 years. We have more than 14,000 centenarians and this number will at least double in the next ten years. But life doesn’t always mean being healthy.

In the UK, a healthy life expectancy – the amount of our lives when we are free from chronic illnesses or disabilities – is around 63 years. After that, our chance of caring for at least one or more serious health problems increases dramatically. By 2040, more than six million elderly Britons will struggle with daily tasks such as bathing, eating, getting dressed or going to the toilet, and half of those over 65 will have at least two chronic conditions, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease.

Enormous windrows are vulnerable, visually impaired, suffer from hearing loss and even dementia. With scarce resources, one third of adults with care needs do not receive help, and lonely people who cannot check whether they are in order are twice as likely to have heart disease, diabetes and die early.

And this is where technology comes in handy. Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at the University of Sheffield, explains: “As we get older, we are likely to live with a chronic illness or disability that detracts from how well we can look after ourselves. AI and robotics can be used to make us live at home longer, what most people want. “

Robots are already available for simple tasks at home, such as vacuuming and mowing the lawn. Cooking robots will soon be able to help with the preparation of meals.

‘AI connected to cameras around the house can also follow movement and recognize changes to the norm that could indicate a problem – they can predict whether a person is at risk of falling, or that they will sleep more and possibly become depressed and then warners , says Prof. Prescott.

Silicon Valley is of course not a good cause. There is money to be made and questions about privacy: as we have already seen, some technology companies that we have invited to our homes have behaved unethically.

Devices for home assistants and even our smartphones ‘spy’ us and record our conversations – and the data they collect is sold to commercial companies.

There have been reports that home cameras have even been hacked and intimate, private photos have been posted online.

But following the money are some of the smartest people in the world, all focused on creating technology solutions that will really benefit us, especially in old age.

So what were the best advances revealed at CES this year? Here are just some of the most remarkable.

SCANNER DIRECTLY FROM STAR TREK

MedWand

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

In the cult-sci-fi series Star Trek from the 60s, the Starship Enterprise doctor uses Bones, a Tricorder – a device that can scan patients, read their vital functions, and diagnose virtually any problem in seconds. The MedWand is comparable and offers ten advanced diagnostic tools in one handheld device. MedWand CEO Samir Qamar says: “There will come a time when you get sick, you have this next to your computer, make an appointment online and the doctor can examine you without having to leave the house.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Hold the gadget against the chest and it listens to the lungs and heart, like a stethoscope. It can take the temperature of the forehead, measure the oxygen content in the blood and examine it in the ears and back of the throat. Users can follow guides for this – or doctors have remote access to MedWand and can instruct patients to perform a self-examination. “Your hand actually becomes the doctor’s hand,” explains Dr. Qamar out.

WHEN CAN I GET IT?

The MedWand is launched in America this summer. The unit and software are expected to bring around £ 300 to the store. An introduction to the UK follows.

medwand.com

GLOVE HELPING REPAIR

Neofect Smart Glove and Smart Balance

BATTLE A Cuddly (Headless) CAT

Qoobo and Petit Qoobo

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

It can take a few years before we have a robot friend to talk to. What about getting a robot cat to keep you company?

These soft, faux-fur-covered balls vibrate gently and “spin” when you hug and pet them, and the robot tail swings, just like a real cat.

Stroking an animal has shown in many studies that it releases hormones and other body chemicals that calm us down, lower blood pressure, and make us feel good.

Can the pillow-like Qoobo “therapeutic” robot do the same?

These soft, faux-fur-covered balls vibrate gently and “spin” when you hug and pet them, and the robot tail swings, just like a real cat

Small studies conducted by Yukai Engineering, the Japanese company that makes them, suggest that it might be possible.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Inside the Qoobo is a small motion and touch sensitive ‘motor’ that causes the spinning vibrations and makes the tail work. It jumps to life when you hug and caress it, and falls silent after being laid down for a while.

WHEN CAN I GET IT?

Both Qoobo and Petit Qoobo are expected to sell around £ 99 and will be available in the UK this year through Amazon.

ux-xu.com

The futuristic-looking Smart Glove and other devices turn difficult stroke rehabilitation exercises into fun games.

Every five minutes someone in the UK gets a stroke – when a problem with circulation to the brain leads to damage.

Although 38,000 die of stroke each year, many more are disabled.

About 80 percent of the 1.2 million stroke survivors in Britain are unable to use a hand or an arm, while others have long-term problems with walking and balance.

Daily rehabilitation exercises are crucial, but are annoying and repetitive, and many patients leave them.

Neofect devices are meant to make rehabilitation fun by adding a game element to the exercises.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The Smart Glove, an “exoskeleton” of rubber and plastic, operates games on a screen that encourage small, complicated hand and finger movements, allowing users to regain muscle control over time.

Another tool is the Smart Balance video game, based on the arcade hit Dance Dance Revolution.

With a mat with pressure sensors, the feet can control what happens on the screen, which builds strength and coordination in the legs.

WHEN CAN I GET IT?

Neofect makes a series of ‘rehab game’ devices, but they are expensive.

The Smart Glove and the associated software cost thousands of pounds and the company hopes to focus primarily on clinics rather than on individuals.

neofect.com

SMART SOLUTION FOR INCONTINENCE

Smardii and Monit

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Miami-based Smardii and the Korean company Monit introduced Bluetooth-connected sensors last year that can be slid into a baby’s diaper – anxious parents warn when the diaper needs to be changed.

Now they sell the same technology to adults.

Urinary incontinence affects six million adults – and a quarter of the elderly.

Up to 60 percent of those in residential care suffer from bladder problems and a quarter have bowel incontinence.

Accidents can remain unattended, especially if residents suffer from dementia, or other problems mean that they cannot communicate with carers.

Apart from diminishing dignity, this can lead to infections and skin problems.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

A wafer-thin disposable sensor slides into normal incontinence underwear.

This communicates wirelessly with a clip-on device that is worn on the waistband.

Both brands also analyze urinary urinary tract infections that are common in older people and can cause serious problems if they are not treated.

The Smardii device also functions as a fall alarm.

WHEN CAN I GET IT?

Monit and Smardii will be launched in America this year and await a British release. Costs must be confirmed.

smardii.com, goodmonit.com

RELAX IN A PAIR OF CONNECTED PAJAMAS

Xenoma e-skin Sleep & Lounge

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

The clothing has cut or sewn small trackers in which movements, heart rate, temperature and even sleeping patterns are checked

The clothing has cut or sewn small trackers in which movements, heart rate, temperature and even sleeping patterns are checked

The clothing has cut or sewn small trackers in which movements, heart rate, temperature and even sleeping patterns are checked

Home monitoring systems are nothing new: sensors installed in rooms can detect falls and some advanced versions can detect whether an older person is acting differently or appears to be problematic – automatically alerting a call center to send a human caregiver.

Xenoma has an ingenious solution to the fact that cameras cannot follow a person anywhere – by installing sensors in lounge wear and pajamas.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The clothing has cut or sewn small trackers in which movements, heart rate, temperature and even sleeping patterns are checked. Xenoma already makes ‘connected’ clothing for athletes and has based the Sleep & Lounge collection on similar technology.

WHEN CAN I GET IT?

Xenoma is planning a US launch in the coming months and is looking for distributors in the UK. Sets cost less than £ 200.

xenoma.com

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