The research field of artificial intelligence (AI) has a long tradition in Hamburg. In 1987, one of the first laboratories in Germany for AI was founded at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hamburg. Today, Frank Steinicke, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, heads a corresponding research group at the University of Hamburg.
He is internationally recognized as an expert in human-computer interaction, AI and virtual reality. In his opinion, digitization in nursing offers great opportunities for researching and combating neurological diseases - as well as for the problem of the shortage of skilled workers.
WORLD: The “baby boomer” generation of the post-war baby boomers is getting old. Demographic development and a shortage of skilled workers mean that there will soon be many people in need of care in Hamburg, but few young people who support them in everyday life. The hope of many rests on the technical progress that may close this gap - is the hope justified?
Frank Steinicke: Definitely. Because the demographic change is fueled to some extent by the fact that precisely these technical innovations, for example in medical technology or pharmaceuticals, mean that we are much older today than we were two or three generations ago. However, this development is accompanied by an increase in neurological diseases. The older we get, the more common dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's occur. We are working on various projects to develop forms of therapy that are specifically aimed at the "baby boomers", a generation that moves very differently in the digital world. She trains with the help of technology to remain both cognitively and motorically fit.
WORLD: With several partners and the support of the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, you have developed an AI-supported training system at the University of Hamburg to improve health and fitness. How exactly will such intelligent systems be able to help in the field of care and rehabilitation in the future?
Steinicke: We have developed therapeutic movement games that are played by the residents of the retirement home with virtual reality glasses. The players have to perform certain movements and remember things at the same time. We know from research that the combination of motor and cognitive tasks can have a preventive and delaying effect on dementia. The advantage of these games is not only that they are fun and train your body and memory at the same time - you can theoretically play them alone, without the help of nurses. We observe that digitally inexperienced users cope much better with such artificial forms of interaction in the virtual world than test subjects who are used to working with a mouse and cursor.
WORLD: Has regular play had a demonstrably positive effect on seniors?
Steinicke: The problem is that the neurological diseases mentioned are very long-term diseases. The effect will therefore probably only be observed in a few years. But research projects like ours are usually only funded for three years. However, we did a nine-week pilot study in which we actually saw an improvement in cognitive abilities. And: Those who played regularly did better in the tests than a comparison group that didn't play at all.
WORLD: How realistic is it to use such intelligent applications therapeutically on a broad basis?
Steinicke: Of course, such programs do not replace nurses. The technical effort is also relatively high and it is currently still taking some time to introduce the residents to the technology. In this respect, such projects cannot relieve the burden on nursing staff at the moment and are of course not yet used across the board.
WORLD: The University of Hamburg is one of four universities organized in the North German Competence Center for AI in Medicine. Among other things, robots for rehabilitation are to be developed as part of this. When can we expect robots in nursing homes?
Steinicke: We have been working on exactly this question for three years: How can artificial intelligence support medicine, medical technology, therapies and prevention? The movement games mentioned are part of the answer. If these are automatically monitored by camera, this can relieve the physiotherapist. Overall, Northern Germany is a leader in Germany with strong companies, industry in the field of medical technology and the resident university clinics. We are currently discussing how further projects in this area can be permanently financed at the Hamburg site.
WORLD: What role will AI play in relation to aging in the coming decades?
Steinicke: That is difficult to predict. We know from the last 100 years that computer science has developed exponentially. I assume that in 10, 15 years the hardware will be a thousand times better than what we have now. The technology will work a thousand times better, faster and more reliably. There will be a whole range of new possibilities. AI will be essential for us to deal with demographic change. Ultimate responsibility will always remain with the human being. AI will never completely replace doctors, therapists and nurses, but will only be able to support them.
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