How Alexa could solve the isolation problem

I was in a meeting this week and we were discussing how digital technology is enabling lots of innovation to take place.

In particular, I got to thinking about how connected technology, like Amazon’s Echo, can enable people who aren’t digitally savvy to be connected with service providers, and never having to worry that they’re not digitally connected as we might think they need to be. This is nothing more than a thought experiment – but one that could have legs if someone picked it up (and if someone does, the kudos being passed my way would be appreciated). (Also, I may have missed that some of this is either already in play, or is being developed)

One of the ongoing challenges with our connected world is that if you’re not connected, you miss out on a lot of advancements and improvements to the world of consumer and customer services.

A societal challenge we face is there are many people who are isolated from others. That’s due to a number of factors, and it’s also one of the hardest to know how to resolve.

At some level, some people argue – we just need to be more humane. And yes, that’s a response, and I think the answers will need to be multi-faceted. Some people will want to do the person to person knocking on the door thing. Some people will want to provide at food shelters, and food banks, and shelters and all sorts. We absolutely need those souls, because they help us know what humanity is like when people are facing their hardest times.

I’m thinking, how do we use the connected technology available for an older person to be less isolated. And here’s where I think things can take a dramatic turn.

Mrs Miggins lives by herself. She’s fairly self sufficient for a 70 year old. She’s physically able, and isn’t suffering any serious health issues. She has a pension helping her to get by week by week. Sadly, though, she’s fairly isolated. She lives in a block of flats and her children have passed away. She has no siblings and other relatives lost contact with her. Her neighbours are regularly changing so she’s not built any real connections. She goes to church once a month. Recently, her housing provider installed WiFi in her home, and gave her an Amazon Echo device. This is what started happening next.

A week after the installation, she went to turn on the hot water, and it was coming out cold. After a couple of hours of trying, she walked into her living room cursing a bit louder than she normally does. Alexa recognised the distress in her voice and said “Is there something I can help with?”. Mrs Miggins was told this might happen, and she responded “My hot water isn’t working.” Alexa replied, “Shall I contact the housing provider and inform them?” Mrs Miggins responds, “Erm, yes.”

An hour later, her phone rings. It’s the repairs team at her housing provider. “Hello Mrs Miggins, we’ve had an alert to let us know that your hot water isn’t working. Shall we get someone to come and look at that for you? We could be there this evening about 6pm?”.

Mrs Miggins didn’t have to log on to anything, she didn’t have to remember her details, she didn’t have to ring anyone, and she didn’t have to find the contact details for her housing provider. The connected system made it happen for her.

Here’s another thing that happened.

She was sitting in her living room watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, and she said aloud “I miss talking to someone”. Alexa heard and responded, “Shall I ring someone you can talk to?”. Mrs Miggins responded, “Erm, yes.” An hour later, she had a call from Timothy from the social support team from her local authority. “Hello Mrs Miggins, I’ve had an alert to get in touch and say hello. My name’s Timothy, how are you?” And they had a phone chat for 20 mins. It helped her feel better and she had a good nights sleep.

She didn’t have to pick up the phone and remember how to use it to dial someone. She didn’t have to go through her diary to find a phone number. She didn’t have to do a mental task of remembering who she wanted to and could talk to. The connected system made it happen for her.

Here’s another thing that happened.

Mrs Miggins was doing the hoover and she remembered she needed to do the shopping. But it was late in the afternoon and it was getting dark and she didn’t like to go out at night on her own. She said to Alexa, “Alexa, can you help me with my shoppping?”. Alexa replied, “Yes, Mrs Miggins. Just tell me the list of food you want and I’ll place the order for you.” An hour later, she had a knock at the door. It was her food being delivered for her. She thanked the nice gentleman who delivered it for her, and he left some information about local support groups for senior people.

She didn’t have to go out at night on her own. She felt safe in her own home. She understood Alexa could enable her to fulfil her shopping need. She didn’t have to worry about cash. She didn’t have to use a website. The connected system made it happen  for her.

If we could make this kind of thing happen, we’d be much further along that multi-faceted approach to solving the isolation problem in society.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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