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AI technologies open new prospects for elderly care in China


Zhang Yubei, 87, receives a smart bracelet from a community worker in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province, August 11, 2023. /CFP
Zhang Yubei, 87, receives a smart bracelet from a community worker in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province, August 11, 2023. /CFP

Zhang Yubei, 87, receives a smart bracelet from a community worker in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province, August 11, 2023. /CFP

Wang Yunbo, a 65-year-old resident of Beijing, wholeheartedly embraces his "smart" lifestyle.

"When I switch on the TV at home, a personalized list of my favorite channels appears on the screen. The smart band on my wrist displays my daily blood pressure levels and heart rates, reminding me to take my medication. When I take the bus, my mobile phone can automatically identify my location, and the payment code pops up," he explained with satisfaction.

For Wang and the nearly 300 million Chinese citizens aged 60 or above, many of whom lack constant companionship and struggle with using electronic devices, AI technologies are increasingly being used to simplify and enrich their lives in the digital age.

Official figures show that by the end of 2023, over 490,000 Chinese companies, both state-owned and private, were engaged in the elderly care business, focusing primarily on smart health, health-centered tourism, financing and anti-aging sectors.

Wang Haotian, a researcher at the Academy of Macroeconomic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, noted that new technologies and business models have emerged in recent years to meet the more personalized, diversified, and quality-focused consumption demands of seniors.

According to the National Health Commission, China is expected to be home to over 400 million people aged 60 or above by 2033, with the number approaching 500 million by around 2050, accounting for nearly 35 percent of the total population. About 90 percent of this population lives at home, seven percent rely on community support, and the remainder rely on commercial institutions for daily care. Thus, meeting the demands of those living at home is a priority.

Feng Wenmeng, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said new smart and digital technologies have created more specialized, secure and comfortable products for seniors. These include devices that monitor health conditions, shoes with positioning systems, and clothes with built-in sensors and inflatable airbags that deploy upon detecting a fall, cushioning the impact and reducing the risk of injury.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Liu, in her seventies, has even developed a bond with her robot "nanny." She talks to the robot every day and relies on its help for housework and health advice. "I almost can't live without it now," she said.

However, experts point out that Chinese companies currently apply AI technologies primarily to basic elderly care services, not yet effectively meeting diverse needs such as remote medical services, thus leaving significant room for development.

Last year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, along with 16 other government departments, issued an action plan to further incorporate robots into various elderly care scenarios to enhance the intelligence level of these services.

Experts foresee deeper integration of AI technologies in the coming years, particularly in smart household products, wearable devices and robots, using 5G, big data, cloud computing and other advanced techniques to achieve higher accuracy and better interaction between humans and robots.

The Bank of Shanghai, the largest agency for pension payment in the city, partnered with SenseTime, a leading AI software company, to develop lifelike AI employees offering voice services on its mobile app. This initiative followed feedback that many mobile banking users still had to visit branches due to technical difficulties. With this service, an 82-year-old user, surnamed Xu, found out his pension account balance on his phone by following the voice directions of the AI employees.

The International Telecommunication Union recently selected this case among the first batch of 40 "AI for Good" cases worldwide. SenseTime plans to further optimize the AI employees by enhancing their emotional responses and adjusting their images to be more compatible with different phone models.

However, as the elderly care industry rapidly grows along with an increased AI presence, concerns have arisen. Some seniors find AI products too expensive and sometimes unreliable, while their families worry about privacy infringement and fraud targeting targeting vulnerable groups.

Hu Zuquan, a researcher with the State Information Center, suggested that China could learn from the experience of countries like the Netherlands, Japan and the United Kingdom in developing its silver economy with the help of AI.

Justine Coulson, the United Nations Population Fund representative to China, expressed hope that China's exploration of the silver economy in the coming decade would serve as valuable examples for other emerging economies.

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency
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