Using ais such as ChatGPT, automated phone services, self-checkouts, Siri, and Alexa is becoming more commonplace in many aspects of life. Interestingly, older adults find these technologies more human-like than their younger counterparts. This phenomenon was highlighted in research conducted by Toronto in April 2023.
Technology has been very positive in many ways. However, negative uses, such as fraudulent or scam calls, can still use them. Therefore, we need to be able to identify these technologies.
Younger individuals appear to be more capable of distinguishing between computer-generated (AI) speech and human speech than those who are older, according to research conducted by Baycrest.
Dr. Björn Herrmann, Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Auditory Aging, Scientist at Rotman Research Institute, and lead author of this study, conducted the research.
Dr. Björn Herrmann says:
“Findings from this study on computer-generated AI speech suggest that older adults may be at a higher risk of being taken advantage of,”
“While this area of research is still in its infancy, further findings could lead to the development of training programs for older adults to help them navigate these challenges.”
This study, the first to analyze AI speech recognition in older adults, compared listeners aged ~30 and ~60 years. They listened to sentences spoken by 10 human speakers (5 male, 5 female) and created 10 AI voices (5 male, 5 female).
Participants undertook two experiments: one in which they assessed how natural they perceived the human and AI voices to be and another where they had to identify whether a human or an AI voice spoke a sentence.
A comparison between younger and older adults revealed that older individuals found AI-generated speech more natural while at the same time being less adept at correctly distinguishing it from human speech.
Dr. Herrmann and his team are engaged in follow-up research to explore why older adults showed less affinity towards AI technology than younger participants. Hearing loss or familiarity with AI were eliminated as factors, but it could be linked to the older age group’s impaired capacity to comprehend emotion in speech.
Dr. Björn Herrmann went on to say:
“As we get older, we seem to pay more attention to the actual words in speech than to its rhythm and intonation when trying to get information about the emotions being communicated.”
“It could be that recognition of AI speech relies on the processing of rhythm and intonation rather than words, which could in turn explain older adults’ reduced ability to identify AI speech.”
This study, and any other related studies in the future, could be utilized not only to aid in developing AI-related training programs and inform interactive AI technology tailored specifically for older adults.
AI speech-based technology is increasingly used in medical, long-term care, and other support spaces for older adults. For instance, AI robots can aid those with dementia who may experience agitation by providing comfort and calming them.
By understanding better how older adults perceive AI speech, we can ensure that AI technologies meet their requirements, thus greatly improving their quality of life and aiding them in leading a purposeful, inspiring, and fulfilling existence.
This research was made possible by the Canada Research Chairs program, awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest is a world-renown center devoted to exploring the effects of aging on brain function. Through generous contributions from individuals, foundations, and government bodies, RRI examines vital elements of neurological science, including perception, attention, memory, and decision-making in cognitive and computational aspects.
Research on aging and brain health, specifically Alzheimer’s and related dementias, conducted at Baycrest campus’ Research Resource Initiative (RRI) aims to improve the quality of life for older adults by investigating changes in behavior and the nervous system caused by age and diseases.
The perception of AI as human-like is a complex and evolving phenomenon, influenced by various factors, including age, culture, and context. As AI technologies continue to advance, it is important to consider the potential impact on human perceptions and emotions and to ensure that these technologies are developed and deployed responsibly and ethically.