As China's population ages, elderly parents find that they are often unable to rely on their only children to care for them. Only 38% of those over 60 live with their children. With over 185 million people over 60 years of age, even the most dedicated working children of aging parents and grandparents struggle to meet their needs. Many elderly individuals are forced to move into retirement homes that face rising labor costs. Products using artificial intelligence are being developed to offset some of these costs and serve some of the basic needs of older Chinese, moving China far head in the artificial intelligence race.
Artificial intelligence to serve the elderly
As China lags behind most countries in high quality, affordable hospital care for its aging population, artificial intelligence seeks to fill that gap. The big three internet companies, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, are at the forefront. For its part, Alibaba Health has partnered with three Chinese hospitals to improve diagnostics and speed up medical decisions, as well as share information among hospitals. Alibaba Health also revealed in July a diagnostic service app for reading CAT scans to identify cancer cells.
Last year, Baidu launched a chatbot, named Melody, to talk with customers and improve diagnostics. Melody can ask patients questions and locate health information online, then provide a hypothesis that doctors can review and send to patients. Tencent-funded firm iCarbonX uses artificial intelligence to gather data to provide medical advice directly to patients. The firm uses genomic information combined with biological samples to predict health issues.
Robots are also making use of artificial intelligence to act as companions and helpers for aging Chinese. Siasun Robot and Automation Co, Ltd, for example, recently launched a new robot whose purpose is to serve the elderly. The robot is designed to care for the elderly in their homes, assisting seniors with communication and health diagnostics. These types of care robots use artificial intelligence capabilities like voice recognition, natural language processing, and machine learning, and are expected to play an increasing role in serving China's graying population.
Robots can also assist the elderly in detecting intruders and home-based dangers. Da Zhi, a robot constructed by Shandong University's Cloud Intelligent Robotics Laboratory unveiled last year, uses audio and visual information combined with facial recognition technology to identify strangers. Potential intruders are photographed and the homeowner is then notified. In addition, if the homeowner falls, photos of the event are sent to an emergency contact.
Robots serving elderly in Japan and Singapore
Other Asian countries like Japan and Singapore already use artificial intelligence based products. Japan uses robots or "carebots" to assist the elderly with nursing care and rehabilitation. Honda's Asimo robot, which was first created in 1986, can serve food to older people and carry out other household tasks. The robot has been provided over time with artificial intelligence capabilities like voice recognition.
Exoskeletons have become an increasingly common means of strengthening elderly workers in Japan. In 2015, Tokyo's Haneda Airport provided its aging staff with exoskeletons to provide extra support as they lift luggage. Tatsumi Shokai Logistics also builds and uses exoskeletons to help older workers load and unload heavy packages.
Singapore has developed chatbots that include avatars to aid communication with the elderly. The government also rolled out Robocoaches to senior activity centers last year to lead fitness classes. These robots were developed by Singapore's own Ngee Ann Polytechnic to mimic human movements and ensure class participation.
China wants to win the artificial intelligence race
China's efforts to use artificial intelligence in its senior care industry are allowing the nation to catch up to artificial intelligence implementation in other Asian nations, which is part of a larger move to catch up with the most developed nations in the field of artificial intelligence by 2020. The State Council announced a plan in July of this year to build an artificial intelligence industry worth 150 billion RMB (link in Chinese) by that date. Policy makers aim to up the industry worth to 400 billion RMB by 2025, and to 1 trillion by 2030. Local governments are also providing support for artificial intelligence firms to locate in particular cities. Suzhou and Shenzhen offer subsidies for these cutting edge businesses.
Much of China's artificial intelligence development have taken place in research as well as application to industry. The implementation aspect is essential for artificial intelligence, since the software must learn social interactions and diagnostics through use. With over a billion people, China has vast resources for collecting data on human characteristics and behavior, and few political or legal roadblocks to doing so. The rapidly expanding senior care industry represents a gold mine of data for new artificial intelligence technologies.