Most people have felt lonely at some point in their lives. However, while many will eventually overcome this feeling, it can have a significant impact on the life and well-being of millions of others.
Age UK claims that 3.6 million Brits live alone and that over two million of them are aged 75 or over. Meanwhile, 1.9 million older people feel ignored or isolated. For the elderly, loneliness often becomes the norm due to bereavement, retirement, redundancy, ill health and other factors.
This problem will only become more prevalent as the ageing population continues to grow, but a strained health system means solving this problem is increasingly challenging. Professional services giant Accenture believes that technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence can help, though.
Looking to address the challenges of elderly loneliness, Accenture has developed a solution that uses conversational AI to let people capture memorable stories for future generations while providing companionship. Powered by Google Voice Assistant, Memory Lane initiates conversation by asking someone who is lonely to tell their life story. This is then turned into a physical book and podcast.
“Elderly people are facing two important challenges, the first of which is the loneliness and isolation from society. Some of them have very few interactions per week and have a lot of free time. What Memory Lane can offer is a ‘daily objective’ where they can share their life and best memories. This is a meaningful activity since they can share those memories for future generations,” says Christian Souche, director of Accenture’s Interactive Innovation Center.
“The second problem is sharing who they are and their learnings from their experiences. Memory Lane can gather these memories and generate a biography – this could be a book or a piece of digital content. Memory Lane enables connections between one generation with a lot of time and a lot of stories and a second generation who is very active with little free time.”
A simple solution for a complex problem
When designing the solution, Accenture wanted it to be as simple to use as possible. “A person deploys a smart speaker in the most convenient space or where they feel the most relaxed to share their memories before Memory Lane is activated in the smart speaker,” explains Christian.
“Then the smart speaker will start to ask daily questions. The user can answer questions or skip them if they don’t want to answer. They can stop the experience when they want. The solution will gather all their answers day by day. Finally, when requested by the user, the solution will pre-populate a biography with user memories. This story will be edited and enriched by a professional writer.”
The underlying algorithms are based on conversational artificial intelligence, which handles conversation in a natural way. Christian says: “It can offer an accessible service to elderly since they don’t have to ‘earn’ how to use the system. They just have to interact with the solution naturally – the same way they can do with another person.”
“We have been working on conversational projects for several years now and have incubated this technology to automatically ask questions and to produce summaries automatically. Our patent-pending solution is a perfect fit in the context of elderly people. Accenture Interactive worked to apply this technology in this situation.”
While the technology is still novel, a number of several participants have taken part in the project and have created their own personalized books. For Christian, the biggest success of the project has been seeing happiness on the face of the participants when they received their personal memory book.
He continues: “Another aspect which was a big success, was the rapid adoption of the service by the elderly people – they were from 80 years old up to 101 years old, but they quickly managed to interact with the solution and shared their best stories.”
Over the coming months, Christian and his team will explore ways in which the solution can be applied in other contexts. Eventually, they’d like to deploy the system at a global system and help even more elderly people.