WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As technology gets better at using different biomarkers and biometric cues to detect how people are feeling it’s opening up new healthcare opportunities.
As people all around the world struggle with their mental health post COVID the government of Chungnam Province in South Korea have just announced they’ve entered into a cooperation deal with one of the country’s largest telecommunications firms KT Corporation to pilot Artificial Intelligence (AI) based care robots that will help communicate with elderly residents who are living alone, identify odd patterns of behaviour including suicidal behaviour, and help deal with mental health problems.
A recent news report noted that the province has recorded the highest suicide rate in the country with 35 cases per 100,000 deaths, 8% higher compared to the national average. Lonely deaths shot up to over a thousand in 2019 from around 60 in 2011, according to South Korea’s Health and Welfare Ministry.
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Running from March this year until October next year, the pilot project with KT involves 10 AI care robots that have been deployed to Cheongyang County, just south of the capital Seoul.
The robot analyses voices and movements of people then, once it detects abnormal activities, it’ll notify health care centres and guardians during the day and the KT control tower at night. The robot also offers personalised services, such as giving quizzes for dementia prevention and playing relaxing music.
The project may eventually be expanded to other regions with high suicide rates after evaluating its effectiveness, said Hwang Chim-Hyun, an official from the provincial government.
So far the South Korean government has invested just over $25 million in research to develop new digital treatments for depression after it saw the number of citizens struggling with their mental health triple during the pandemic from around 800,000 cases in 2019. Potential digital treatments include games and virtual reality.