Individuals will have their own humanised computer avatar capable of intelligent communication, which will monitor their health and well-being and provide a friendly link between the individual and family, friends, professions and services in the not too distant future.
The avatar will have access to a comprehensive database of personal information about the individual, from health records to personal preferences and even character traits, which will help inform its communication and decisions.
In the future elderly people will be able to rely on artificially intelligent ‘virtual companions’ to help them to stay living comfortably and safely in their own homes. The service could revolutionise the way elderly people are cared for in the future, giving back independence and autonomy to millions and saving the NHS money. That is the vision of a team of computer scientists, social work experts and service design specialists who have been awarded £500K from the Technology Strategy Board to develop the concept of the Responsive InTeractive Advocate (RITA).
The RITA project is one of six to be born out of a competition, called the Long Term Care Revolution, which connects public sector challenges with innovative ideas from industry. The project team from the Universities of Portsmouth and Kent are collaborating with two private companies to build the system which could be operational in some form as early as 2020. The development could transform how an individual’s personal, social, emotional and intellectual needs are captured and understood, enabling and prolonging their ability to live independently for longer in their own homes.
Dr Wendy Powell, RITA’s Virtual Reality expert from the University of Portsmouth, said that although the concept sounds futuristic, it isn’t science fiction. “Much of the technology exists today and will become more sophisticated in the next few years. Pulling together information about a person from different sources to build a complete picture of their life is something we’re more familiar with as a marketing tool. But RITA is all about using our information to create a better quality of life for us as we age.
“The avatar has access to all of this personal history, just like a real lifelong companion would, and uses the information to act as champion and advocate. Today our elderly population are so often alone due to divorce, death and family diaspora. What we are creating is an effective support system to fill a massive void in the current care system.”