Artificial Intelligence and Making Humans More Capable

By John Paul Mueller, Luca Massaron

Many of the current techniques for extending the healthy range of human life (the segment of life that contains no significant sickness), rather than just increasing the number of years of life depends on making humans more capable of improving their own health in various ways. You can find any number of articles that tell you 30, 40, or even 50 ways to extend this healthy range, but often it comes down to a combination of eating right, exercising enough and in the right way, and sleeping well. Of course, figuring out just which food, exercise, and sleep technique works best for you is nearly impossible. The following sections discuss ways in which an AI-enabled device might make the difference between having 60 good years and 80 or more good years. (In fact, it’s no longer hard to find articles that discuss human life spans of 1,000 or more years in the future because of technological changes.)

Using games for therapy

A gaming console can make a powerful and fun physical therapy tool. Both Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 see use in many different physical therapy venues. The goal of these games is to get people moving in certain ways. As when anyone else plays, the game automatically rewards proper patient movements, but a patient also receives therapy in a fun way. Because the therapy becomes fun, the patient is more likely to actually do it and get better faster.

Of course, movement alone, even when working with the proper game, doesn’t assure success. In fact, someone could develop a new injury when playing these games. The Jintronix add-on for the Xbox Kinect hardware standardizes the use of this game console for therapy, increasing the probability of a great outcome.

Considering the use of exoskeletons

One of the most complex undertakings for an AI is to provide support for an entire human body. That’s what happens when someone wears an exoskeleton (essentially a wearable robot). An AI senses movements (or need to move) and provides a powered response to the need. The military has excelled in the use of exoskeletons. Imagine being able to run faster and carry significantly heavier loads as a result of wearing an exoskeleton. This video gives you just a glimpse of what’s possible. Of course, the military continues to experiment, which actually feeds into civilian uses. The exoskeleton you eventually see (and you’re almost guaranteed to see one at some point) will likely have its origins in the military.

Industry has also gotten in on the exoskeleton technology. Factory workers currently face a host of illnesses because of repetitive stress injuries. In addition, factory work is incredibly tiring. Wearing an exoskeleton not only reduces fatigue but also reduces errors and makes the workers more efficient. People who maintain their energy levels throughout the day can do more with far less chance of being injured, damaging products, or hurting someone else.

The exoskeletons in use in industry today reflect their military beginnings. Look for the capabilities and appearance of these devices to change in the future to look more like the exoskeletons shown in movies such as Aliens. The real-world examples of this technology are a little less impressive but will continue to gain in functionality.

As interesting as the use of exoskeletons to make able people even more incredible is, what they can enable people to do that they can’t do now is downright amazing. For example, a recently published Smithsonian article discusses using an exoskeleton to enable a child with cerebral palsy to walk. Not all exoskeletons used in medical applications provide lifetime use, however. For example, an exoskeleton can help a stroke victim walk normally again. As the person becomes more able, the exoskeleton provides less support until the wearer no longer needs it. Some users of the device have even coupled their exoskeleton to other products, such as Amazon’s Alexa.

The overall purpose of wearing an exoskeleton isn’t to make you into Iron Man. Rather, it’s to cut down on repetitive stress injuries and help humans excel at tasks that currently prove too tiring or just beyond the limits of their body. From a medical perspective, using an exoskeleton is a win because it keeps people mobile longer, and mobility is essential to good health.