Accenture Interactive has created a project using artificial intelligence to tackle elderly loneliness. The Memory Lane initiative, produced in collaboration with Swedish energy company Stockholm Exergi, has already piloted in the Nordic nation, and a broader rollout to the UK and beyond has not been ruled out.
The UK is one of a number of major economies facing the protracted effects of an ageing population, with 18% of the population aged 65 and over and 2.4% aged 85 and over. Births continue to outnumber deaths, meaning the population is rising, however this is largely thanks to the average life expectancy having steadily risen in recent years, and the baby boomer generation finally approaching that milestone. This is placing notable strain on the National Health Service and the country’s pension pots, as well as demand on social care, as the number of senior citizens no longer capable of caring for themselves rises.
Adding significantly to this strain is the worrying trend of social alienation which has become ever more prevalent in the UK since the collapse of the post-war consensus. As British society has become increasingly atomised, the nation’s most vulnerable people have become more and more isolated. In the UK, recent studies have shown that feelings of loneliness are now experienced on a regular basis by around 1.5 million people aged 50 and over, while charity Age UK estimates that 3.6 million older people live alone, and 2 million often feel “ignored or invisible”.
The impact of this goes well beyond an individuals’ mental health too, according to research by Accenture Interactive. In a global study, Accenture Interactive found that loneliness is linked to an increased risk of depression and dementia, putting additional strain on the UK’s under-resourced adult care sector, while also increasing the likelihood of being physically inactive, and of visiting a doctor or Accident and Emergency (A&E) hospital department – something which, in the UK’s case, has pushed the underfunded and short-staffed NHS’ services to the breaking point in recent years.
Following the rise of this phenomenon across the globe, Accenture Interactive has moved to do something to help alleviate the situation. In order to combat loneliness in the advanced years of people around the world, the consultancy created a project titled 'Memory Lane', which uses a voice assistant combined with conversational artificial intelligence to capture stories for future generations.
Created in collaboration with Swedish energy firm Stockholm Exergi, Memory Lane uses Google Voice Assistants to invite someone who is lonely to tell their life story. Once this has been captured, the discussion is then instantly converted into both a physical book and a podcast – creating a story co-written by human and machine that can be shared by participants with future generations.
Commenting on the project, Adam Kerj, the Nordics Chief Creative Officer at Accenture Interactive said, “When people experience little to no social interaction over extended periods of time, it can cause a sharp decline in their mental and physical health. In the two years we spent developing the software and the concept of the platform, we observed the urge to share stories by lonely participants was incredibly strong. To this end, we not only wanted to develop something that could hold a human-like conversation with them, but also capture those memories so they didn’t end up untold.”
So far, the firm has only piloted the solution in Stockholm, with two of the pilot participants’ stories having been documented online as part of a podcast on Memory Lane’s website. Accenture and Stockholm Exergi are currently looking for more people to take part in the project, with the aim of having a monthly podcast. At the same time, while the AI tool is currently still in development and is yet to be commercialised, the two companies told Design Week that the aim is to make the software “accessible” rather than “make a lot of money”.