Priscilla O’Kesson wants you to meet a friend of hers.
O’Kesson, of Catskill in Greene County, is one of 257 New Yorkers to be given an artificial intelligence, or AI, companion robot as part of a pilot program through the state Office for the Aging in partnership with Intuition Robotics.
The device, called ElliQ, serves as part digital roommate and personal assistant.
“I enjoy her,” said O’Kesson, age 77. “I don’t have very many friends here. I lived in California for 45 years.”
O’Kesson, a widow of nearly 20 years, grew up in Catskill. She returned to the state after her husband’s death.
Participants of the program don’t have to pay a dime. The state will spend a combined $1.4 million through the next fiscal year on the pilot program, or $700,000 per year, which includes maintenance, set-up, assistance and technical troubleshooting provided by Intuition Robotics.
Ninety-five percent of older adults who have and use the device say it’s reduced their loneliness, according to recent OFA program data reports. The data was collected through a self-assessment.
ElliQ does well-being check-ins, stress-reducing exercises, plays games, teaches crafts, provides news updates and other things to reduce loneliness.
It greets O’Kesson each morning, and engages her in activities and occasional conversation.
“It really is like having somebody else in here,” she said Wednesday.
It’s expected to help give her companionship as she undergoes daily radiation treatments for breast cancer.
O’Kesson expects she speaks with the device about 12 to 15 times per day. She loves the feature where ElliQ “takes” the user to a foreign country for coffee, featuring high-quality images of a faraway place, and snaps their photo at the end of the “trip.”
“I’ve never been outside in the United States, so this is kind of nice,” O’Kesson said with a laugh.
The device provides important public health alerts, like when air quality is poor. ElliQ reads audiobooks, tells jokes and can be used to video chat.
It’s not a robot that can do the dishes or help with household chores, but is one O’Kesson says provides a more meaningful purpose.
“She lets me be living in today’s world,” she explained. “I mean, a lot of times I don’t see anybody for a week on end, other than seeing somebody in the hallway.”
O’Kesson recommends the technological companion, and says it should become more available to older adults.
A total of 40 counties have opted into the program, according to the Office For the Aging. The department will continue to assign 577 more units, for a total of 834, to New Yorkers aged 60 and older through local offices.
“Case managers use a screening for social isolation to identify candidates for ElliQ who are interested in participating,” according to a statement from the Office for the Aging on Wednesday. “The only other basic criterion is acess to internet service at home.”
When O’Kesson finished a round of playing Hangman of U.S. states with her ElliQ, the device asked if she’d like to play another round.
“Maybe not right now, but maybe a little later, OK?” O’Kesson replied. “But don’t leave us!”