In order to meet future care demands for the elderly who are lonely and suffering from dementia, carebot Alice has been developed by SELEMCA, a research group from VU Amsterdam. Not just scientists but also health and social care professionals, they feed their collective experience into Alice by integrating a computer model of human social-emotional behavior into the robot, giving Alice the ability for moral reasoning and letting her learn from the user. The focus of her development is on creating software which can recognize human emotions, respond to those emotions, and have the robot display those emotions itself.
Alice the carebot is sent off to three elderly single women in assited living facilities — Mrs. Remkes, Mrs. Schellekens-Blanke, an Mrs. van Wittmarschen— as a houseguest. Mrs. Remkes has not left her house in two weeks because the elevator is out of order. Mrs. van Wittmarschen is not very mobile and misses her only son who lives in Portugal. And former singer Mrs. Schellekens-Blanke’s outlook on life is a somber one now that her mobility is also getting more and more restricted. The women, their family and surrounding caregivers await the carebot’s arrival with suspicion though. Can a robot build a human relationship with someone provide similar benefits as a relationship with a person of flesh and blood? Will Alice be able to motivate the women to tackle their social isolation?
The outcome of the experiment is surprising for all involved. As Alice’s visits continue, extraordinary and emotional scenes unfold. It doesn’t take long for the women to lose their hearts to the robot and gradually abandon their initial reservations. As Alice learns more about the world and her new “friends”, a glimpse of a new reality comes into existence for the three women tasked with teaching her humanity — one with less loneliness and worry, and consequently better health.