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SK Telecom’s Artificial Intelligence Care Proves Effective in Taking Care of Senior Citizens
A New Form of Social Safety Net
SK Telecom’s Artificial Intelligence Care Proves Effective in Taking Care of Senior Citizens
  • By Kim Eun-jin
  • May 20, 2020, 17:11
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SK Telecom announced on May 20 the results of Barun ICT Research Center’s research on the performance and effectiveness of its Artificial Intelligence Care (AI Care), which recently marked its first anniversary.

Launched in April 2019, AI Care is an innovative senior care service that utilizes SK Telecom’s AI Speaker Nugu. Under cooperation with Korean local governments, AI Care is being provided to a total of around 3,200 seniors living alone.

Barun ICT Research Center conducted an in-depth survey of 670 users (seniors living alone) to learn about the usage patterns and effects of AI Care. The average age of the respondents was 75 years and the gender proportion was 30 percent male and 70 percent female.

Established in April 2015, Barun ICT Research Center is a non-profit think tank that aims to set the right direction for building a safe and sustainable society through appropriate use of information and communication technology (ICT).

According to the survey, over 95 percent of respondents replied that they are using the AI speaker Nugu more than three times a week: 73.6 percent of respondents said that they are using the device on a daily basis, and 21.9 percent said that they are using it 3-4 times a week.

Moreover, AI Care was found to be very helpful in taking care of the emotions of the older adults. Comparing before and after the use of the AI speaker, their sense of happiness and positive feelings towards life increased while their sense of loneliness and negative emotions decreased. These changes were shown more clearly among first-time users of a digital device.

The survey results also showed that seniors are using the AI speaker for various purposes. The frequently used features are music streaming (95.1%), information search/voice search (83.9%), emotional conversation (64.4%) and radio streaming (43.9%).

By providing a prompt response in the event of an emergency, AI Care has proven its possibility to evolve into a new form of social safety net that can help protect and save the lives of seniors who live alone. 

When the user cries out “Aria, help!” or “Aria, Emergency SOS!,” the AI speaker will recognize the situation as urgent and automatically report it to the ICT Care Center and ADT Caps, which will immediately check the situation and if deemed necessary, report the situation to the 119 emergency service.

Aria is a wake word for SK Telecom’s AI speaker Nugu.

From May 2019 to April 2020, the number of cases where users called out for help totaled 328. Among them, 23 were confirmed as emergency cases – e.g. breathing difficulty, chest pain, headache, injury, etc. – and thus received immediate medical help.

Moreover, the usage rate of News Tok Tok, a specialized service provided by the ICT Care Center and local governments to deliver useful everyday life information to seniors, has increased three-fold since the outbreak of the coronavirus. It sends out voice messages containing COVID-19 related information, including tips to prevent infection, ways to purchase publicly-distributed masks, and movements of confirmed patients, and even tries to make users healthier and more energetic by suggesting immune-boosting recipes, mood-changing songs, and so on.

SK Telecom also said that AI Care’s dementia prevention program named Brain Tok Tok has been proven to be effective in improving the cognitive ability of users. Brain Tok Tok, developed jointly by SK Telecom and Seoul National University College of Medicine, allows users to solve quizzes while conversing with their AI speaker Nugu.

According to the research team led by Lee Jun-young, associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry, Seoul National University College of Medicine, seniors who used the service for five days per week for eight weeks have shown improvements in their long-term memory, concentration and verbal fluency, which in effect is expected to delay the development of dementia for about two years. The team plans to publish a paper containing details of the research in June 2020.

In addition to Brain Tok Tok, AI Care began providing Memory Test, developed jointly by SK Telecom and Prof. Lee’s research team, this month. Memory Test is designed to enable seniors to take cognitive function tests offered by major university hospitals and the Seoul Metropolitan Center for Dementia (SMCD) while staying comfortably at home. For instance, users will listen to a short-edited version of a Korean folk tale and take a related quiz. Then the level of their memory health will be determined depending on the number of correct answers. The research team recommends that constant use of both Brain Tok Tok and Memory Test will help prevent dementia.

“We found through our research that AI-based senior care is playing a positive role in improving the psychological well-being of seniors,” said Kim Beom-soo, executive eirector of Barun ICT Research Center.

“AI Care is a representative case where ICT can help build a new form of social safety net,” said Lee Joon-ho, vice president and head of Social Value Group of SK Telecom. “We will continue to seek ways to further advance our AI Care to proactively respond to the rapid aging of population in Korea.”