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Robots to be used in UK care homes to help reduce loneliness | Society

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Robots that can hold simple conversations and learn people’s interests are to be deployed in some UK care homes after an international trial found they boosted mental health and reduced loneliness.

The wheeled robots, called “Pepper”, move independently and gesture with robotic arms and hands and are designed to be “culturally competent”, which means that after some initial programming they learn about the interests and backgrounds of care home residents. This allows them to initiate rudimentary conversations, play residents’ favourite music, teach them languages, and offer practical help including medicine reminders.

The researchers, led by Dr Chris Papadopoulos at the University of Bedfordshire, said the trial was not intended to explore the replacement of human carers with robots, but to help fill lonely periods when, because of a stretched social care system, staff do not have time to keep residents company.

The trial, in the UK and Japan, found that older adults in care homes who interacted with the robots for up to 18 hours across two weeks had a significant improvement in their mental health. There was a small but positive impact on loneliness severity among users and the system did not increase feelings of loneliness, academics found.

The robots’ limitations centred on their conversations feeling superficial and lacking “richness”, users said. They lacked personalisation and sometimes did not show enough cultural awareness, and their head movements and hand gestures were sometimes distracting. The analysis was part of a £2.3m research project funded by the European commission and Japanese government.

Advinia Healthcare, a trial location and one of the largest providers of dementia care in the UK, said it was “working towards implementing this into routine care of vulnerable people to reduce anxiety and loneliness and provide continuity of care”.

“This is the only artificial intelligence that can enable an open-ended communication with a robot and a vulnerable resident,” said Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, the Advinia chairman. “Now we are working towards bringing the robot into routine care, so it can be of real help to older adults and their families.”

He said the robots would not directly lead to job cuts but would be worth using because happier residents mean less work for staff and improve satisfaction ratings, boosting occupancy.

The initiative comes amid a continuing staffing crisis for UK care homes exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, during which more than 18,000 residents have died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

Before the outbreak, the care industry had at least 120,000 vacancies and the largest operators this week told MPs that staff are suffering “burnout”, and the strain is being increased by the financial difficulties many operators are facing, after costs soared and occupancy levels fell.

A single robot loaded with software costs about £19,000, about £1,000 more than the average salary of a care worker in south-east England. But cheaper robots could also be used.

Care England, which represents the largest providers, said the robots were not likely to replace staff but might help create deeper and higher-quality relationships with residents.

“In the UK alone, 15,000 people are over 100 years of age and this figure will only increase,” said Irena Papadopoulos, a professor of transcultural health and nursing at the University of Middlesex. “Socially assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve some pressures in hospitals and care homes. No one is talking about replacing humans – the evaluation demonstrates that we are a long way from doing that – but it also reveals that robots could support existing care systems. While results demonstrate that our experimental robot was more culturally competent to users, they also reveal that there is room for improvement.”

Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents charitable care providers, said: “Robots in social care should not be seen as part of a frightening futuristic vision. They offer key additions to how care is delivered that need to be explored further and understood. Covid-19 has shown us that rather than being a sector which does not understand technology, it is in fact one that is ripe to explore how technology can improve efficiency, support data flow and enhance communication with families and loved ones.”

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Amazon coronavirus work from home policy extended through June 2021

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The Amazon headquarters sits virtually empty on March 10, 2020 in downtown Seattle, Washington. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Amazon recommended all employees in its Seattle office to work from home, leaving much of downtown nearly void of people.

John Moore | Getty Images

Amazon will allow employees who can work from home to do so through June 2021, CNBC confirmed Tuesday. 

“We continue to prioritize the health of our employees and follow local government guidance,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Employees with work that can effectively be done from home can continue to do that work from home through June 30, 2021.”

News of the extended work from home policy was first reported by Bloomberg

Amazon follows in the footsteps of several tech companies that have extended their work from home policies until at least early 2021, including Apple, Facebook and Uber. Twitter has allowed employees to work from home “forever” if they wish.

The move pushes out the timeline for a return to work for Amazon’s corporate employees, who’ve been working from home since March. The company previously said that employees could work from home until January. 

Amazon’s fulfillment operations have functioned as an essential business during the pandemic, which requires warehouse employees and delivery drivers to report to work. The topic has been a source of controversy for Amazon, as lawmakers and labor groups have criticized the company’s treatment of frontline employees amid the coronavirus crisis.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. has reported more than 8.2 million coronavirus cases and at least 220,649 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.


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Most of Netflix’s 2021 slate of TV, film won’t be hurt by coronavirus

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Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’.

Source: Netflix

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said he’s confident that the company’s slate of films and television shows planned for release in 2021 will find a place on the streaming service next year.

The coronavirus pandemic has hindered content production in the U.S. and globally, postponing theatrical releases and cable television premieres. Sarandos said Netflix’s production is “nearly fully operational” globally, and the platform is prepared to deliver the majority of the content on its calendar next year.

“Those productions may go a little slower than they than we had planned, but materially we are back in, you know, we’re back in business in production in most places in the world,” he said during a prerecorded earnings video Tuesday.

Sarandos said more content will likely arrive in the back half of 2021, particularly its bigger titles, due to the delays in production caused by the pandemic.

The company has already completed more than 50 productions since mid-March and is set to finish another 150 more by the end of 2020. Netflix has already restarted production of its hit series “Stranger Things,” “The Witcher” and a project called “Red Notice,” which stars Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, the company said in its earnings release Tuesday.


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Gene Munster on Netflix’s earnings report and stock performance ahead

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Gene Munster on Netflix’s earnings report and stock performance ahead