Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Web Secret 510: The promise of technology

I ended my recap if the Best of iWebU last week - it was time to move on.

Also, I had to share a moving, mind expanding Wired article with you: "Something to Watch Over Me" by Lauren Smiley.

Much has already been written about our growing aging population, which combined with insufficient numbers of home health aides, is headed towards catastrophe.

You don't have to be a medical social worker to know that home care is expensive and at times unreliable. Fortunately, technology now exists, to help with that cost and keep seniors home for a longer period of time. The article describes this tech and I herewith summarize its salient points:

Arlyn Anderson was involved in caring for her 91 year old father, Jim, who was increasingly forgetful, but wanted to remain in his Minnesota cabin. One day, she about a new digi­tal eldercare service called CareCoach. For about $200 a month, a human-powered avatar would be available to watch over a homebound person 24 hours a day; Arlyn paid that same amount for just nine hours of in-home help. She signed up immediately.

A Google Nexus tablet arrived in the mail a week later. When Arlyn plugged it in, an animated German shepherd appeared onscreen, standing at attention on a digitized lawn. Following the instructions, Arlyn uploaded dozens of pictures to the service’s online portal: images of family members, her father's boat, and some of his inventions.

Jim formed a relationship with the avatar almost immediately and named his dog Pony. Within a week Jim and Pony had settled into a routine, exchanging pleasantries several times a day. Every 15 minutes or so Pony would wake up and look for Jim, calling his name if he was out of view. Sometimes Jim would “pet” the sleeping dog onscreen with his finger to rustle her awake. His touch would send an instantaneous alert to the human caretaker behind the avatar, prompting the CareCoach worker to launch the tablet’s audio and video stream. “How are you, Jim?” Pony would chirp. The dog reminded him which of his daughters or in-person caretakers would be visiting that day to do the tasks that an onscreen dog couldn’t: prepare meals, change Jim’s sheets, drive him to a senior center.

In Monterrey, Mexico, Rodrigo Rochin opens his laptop in his home office and logs in to the CareCoach dashboard to make his rounds. He talks baseball with a New Jersey man watching the Yankees; chats with a woman in South Carolina who calls him Peanut (she places a cookie in front of her tablet for him to “eat”); and greets Jim, one of his regulars, who sips coffee while looking out over a lake.

Rodrigo is 35 years old. He grew up crossing the border to attend school in McAllen, Texas, honing the English that he now uses to chat with elderly people in the United States. Rodrigo found CareCoach on an online freelancing platform and was hired in December 2012 as one of the company’s earliest contractors, role-playing 36 hours a week as one of the service’s avatars. He is the person behind Jim's Pony.

The rest of the article describes the many sometimes unexpected ways Pony helps and monitors Jim's well being. And how CareCoach was invented. And how it represents a new source of employment opportunity for workers with good English skills around the world.

It honestly describes the promise and the pitfalls of the CareCoach technology.

Overwhelmingly, I was left with the promise.

Worth the read.

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