Technology didn’t miss a beat during the pandemic. Before COVID, computer voices sounded fake and HAL-like. Now, you can hardly tell if you’re talking to a person or an AI impersonator. The same boldface-progress holds for facial recognition, electric cars, anti-Semitism, online shopping and loneliness.
We know loneliness (like race, gender, income and access to hospitals) is a social determinant of our health. In 2017, the US Surgeon General declared loneliness an “epidemic” among Americans of all ages. In fact, loneliness can kill, and not just if you’re locked up during a pandemic. It can boost your risk of dementia, depression, high blood pressure and stroke. And the older you get, the lonelier you grow: one in four Canadians over 65 now lives alone without family or friends, and 43% of Americans over 60 identify as lonely.
All kinds of buddy programs have sprung up to combat this. But they often don’t work, and take far too much money, time, skill, political will and moral effort.
Hence, the rise of social robots to reduce the perils of loneliness. Or rather, the rise of virtual cats and dogs with ‘real’ whiskers, barks, meows and even purrs.
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