University of Alberta researchers creating artificially intelligent chatbot companion for lonely seniors

Researchers aim to create AI companion for lonely seniors

By Andrew Lyle

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta are taking the first steps toward chatbots that can express and respond to emotion during a conversation—including artificially intelligent companions that could help relieve loneliness for seniors.

“Chatbots like Siri or Alexa are primarily used to look up information or do a task for you—answering questions in the shortest time possible,” said computing scientist Osmar Zaïane, co-author of the study and scientific director of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII).

“We envision a device that’s emotionally intelligent, where an elderly person can say “I’m tired’ or “It’s beautiful outside,” or tell a story about their day—and receive a response that carries on the conversation and keeps them engaged.”

“In this study, we coached the program by telling it which emotion to express in its response. Our next study will focus on having the program independently decide on what emotion to express, depending on the persona it’s talking to,” said Zaïane.

“When an elderly person tells you something that’s sad, it’s important to respond with empathy,” said Zaïane. “That requires that the device first understand the emotion that is expressed. We can do that by converting the speech to text and looking at the words that are used.

“In this study, we looked at the next step: having the program express emotions—like surprise, sadness, happiness—in its response.”

The study, “Generating Responses Expressing Emotion in an Open-Domain Dialogue System,” was published in Internet Science.

University of Alberta

More information: Chenyang Huang et al. Generating Responses Expressing Emotion in an Open-Domain Dialogue System, Internet Science (2019). DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-17705-8_9

photo credit:  Melanie Marvin