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AI makes calls to check on senior citizens in South Korea

UPI
An SK Telecom employee shows a senior citizen how to use the AI call services in South Korea. Photo courtesy of SK Telecom

SEOUL, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- A South Korean artificial intelligence program has been successfully calling the country's most vulnerable population, senior citizens who live alone, on a weekly basis to ascertain their safety.

SK Telecom, the Seoul-based mobile carrier, said its AI-based call service, which began in October 2022, has helped more than 4,000 people.

To identify the seniors in need of a check-in, SK Telecom partnered with about 100 regional governments and senior daycare centers.

The AI program has made 1.76 million calls, reaching 11,000 people across the country, and collected timely information for regional governments.

For example, when words such as "stress" and "sickness" come up during the conversation, the AI program automatically switches the call to a human, who can address the issue in more detail.

SK Telecom said the calls resulted in a total of 4,063 people speaking to a human consultant. Of those, 28 were helped to hospitals for treatment.

The company is planning to expand its service to other areas by improving its large-language model, dubbed A.X.

"We realized that our AI call service could offer help to underprivileged people," SK Telecom Vice President Yu Young-mi said in a statement.

In May 2022, Korean search engine Naver embarked on a similar service to call and check up on users about their eating habits and health issues.

In a survey by Naver, most of the seniors answering the calls said they felt safer after receiving regular AI calls.

Korea's national police has also started a pilot AI program, which calls victims of crimes to check up on their well-being and safety.

Experts point out that Korea will have to rely on more and more AI services due to its fast-aging population and the lowest birth rate in the world.

Earlier this year, Statistics Korea forecast that by 2027, the proportion of the population above age 65 would be 46.4% compared to 17.5% today.

Korea's birthrate is also declining. Last year, it was a mere 0.78, meaning fewer than one baby was born to a woman on average, far lower than the 2.1 necessary to maintain the current population.