Summer Night Smart City anyone? Ethics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence in future city planning

ABBA’s famous song Summer Night City was released 40 years ago and was created as a tribute to happy and inspirational Stockholm. In 2017, the Stockholm City Council adopted a strategy City Vision 2040, developed together with its citizens, for making Stockholm the smartest city in the world. Would it turn Stockholm into a Summer Night Smart City?

Good songs and lively cities make us feel joyful, as they create a warm and safe space that encourage connection and collaboration. In music, one can experiment with sound arrangement by blending natural and artificial sounds using different instruments. In city planning, it is about “space arrangement” as one needs to anticipate the future uses of physical space, taking into account changing economic, environmental, demographic, cultural or transportation needs of citizens. The word citizen can even be fetched as the zen of cityness, or an urban feeling of connectedness.

Lately, the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes headlines everywhere. Despite the hype, the notion of AI triggers feelings of ambivalence since we are fascinated by the future benefits AI could bring for humans and society, yet uneasy about potential challenges related to their supposedly unprecedented capabilities. In the area of future city planning and urban development, we need to safeguard the quality of human lives, including human rights, citizens’ safety and security, city’s attractiveness, fairness and sustainability. To this end, we need to consider psychological, societal and ethical questions alongside the technical issues associated with AI’s rapid development and utilization. What if the technical development accelerates faster than the moral and psychological understanding related to AI applications? Moreover, people are not pixels: recent urban psychology research is concerned with cities being seen “mechanistically, as inanimate clumps of buildings and technology, which misses their essential human nature”.

Human experience and behavior are at all times contextual. The local rationality principle posits that we make decisions based on what makes sense to us provided the goals, local conditions and group norms, or the beliefs about proper way of acting in different situations. We are part of the context that affects how we act. How to ensure we, as humans, can deal with unintended consequences as long as AI collects and connects contextual clues, makes decisions and performs a range of activities? How about “sensemaking” for robots? Attachment theory refers to the dynamics of relationships and bonding: concepts such as ‘place identity’ and ‘place attachment’ suggest that the place we live has profound impact on our sense of self, belonging, purpose and meaning in life. Understanding how people interact with the environment and infrastructure in a city shapes a meaningful design and city planning. The future urban landscape needs to accommodate diverse and multicultural needs. Social identity theory indicates that ethnocentrism results when people categorize themselves into emotionally significant groups. In organization science, this can be related to the notion of faultlines, introduced a decade ago by Lau and Murnighan (1998) as hypothetical divisions based on different attributes, which can potentially trigger “us-versus-them” relationship dynamics. A typical big city abounds with multitude of differences of views, cultures or religions. How AI can be used to “melt” the faultlines, mitigate inequalities and build trust and sustainability? How to create cities with a healthy heartbeat, that we all love to live in?

“AI is just an extension of our existing culture”

One of the great promises of AI is to eliminate human weaknesses, such as cognitive biases in decision-making. The general assumption is that AI is logical and objectively rational. However, a new study that used a psychological tool such as Implicit Association Test shows that AI can be biased since it learns from humans: it acquires cultural biases embedded in the patterns of wording and effectively adopts cultural stereotypes. “AI is just an extension of our existing culture”, says Joanna Bryson, one of the authors in the study, a computer scientist at the University of Bath in the UK and Princeton University. A recent MIT study also found gender and skin-type bias in commercial AI systems. How a machine will decide what to do when facing ethical dilemmas? There is a need to encourage an active and genuine dialogue between technology experts and social scientists on how intelligent machines are impacting society. Now is the time to consider the “design, ethical, and policy challenges that AI technologies raise”, says Barbara Grosz, Professors at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Prof. Grosz is chairing the AI100, the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, aiming at anticipating how the effects of AI will flow into every aspect of our lives.

ABBA was an awesome and adorable song-writing and singing “hit machine” with a lasting effect on generations. These days, ABBA is again under the spotlight in Finland for a good reason: the musical Mamma mia! will debut in Helsinki in May 2018 for the first time in Finnish language. Thrilling songs sound in thriving cities.


Nadezhda Gotcheva
Senior Scientist

Will artificial intelligence remain under human control?

How can one communicate fluently with artificial intelligence? Can one cooperate with artificial intelligence?

The existing artificial intelligence (AI) systems based on machine learning are often independent actors that inform people about their conclusions, but otherwise interact with people in a very limited scale.  AI is being increasingly introduced not only in services accessible via the internet, but also in mobile machines, such as autonomous cars and robots. We should consider how to ensure that AI will always remain under human control, and how humans can and how they should be able to interact with AI.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

In trend analyses of technology, the interactive properties of AI have been identified as the next major step in their development. Dialogical interaction does not require the user to seek and learn commands, but the correct function is negotiated through free dialogue with the machine. Interaction can be supplemented by non-verbal communication in such a manner that the machine identifies and reacts to the person’s emotional state, such as the person being confused. A machine can learn to identify individuals and adjust its operations according to which matters the person is and is not familiar with, and how he or she prefers to operate. Personal virtual assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, strive to establish a relationship with their owner and learn their preferences in such a manner that, with time, they can predict the person’s needs and offer assistance even before the person takes the initiative to ask for it.

In the internet, nowadays you often encounter chatbots. They are already relatively clever, and, when dealing with them, you may not always notice at first that you are not encountered by a real human being. A chatbot’s ability to discuss is based on the fact that it knows very well the limited service area within which it operates. It has learned to predict what kind of questions people may have. Every now and then, a chatbot may feel a little bit rude. This probably derives from the fact that they are programmed by people who transfer their own manners to the robot.

Interest towards AI solutions where a human and AI operate in collaboration with each other is increasing.  Collaborative human power can be used, for example, for collecting data or interpreting images in solutions, where a large group of people and AI form a collectively functioning entity. This kind of collective  intelligence has been used for such purposes as digitalisation of old texts. A human eye is incomparable in recognising words, even when written in strange letters. When AI carries out easy text recognition tasks and lets people deal with any unclear cases, the work will advance quickly with such collective power.

Fluent interaction requires learning and participation

Fluent interaction between humans and AI still requires a lot of development in many areas. In the future, we will see increasing amounts of work teams consisting of humans and robots. A robot can assist humans in many kinds of maintenance and service tasks. Fluent interaction is based on AI, with the help of which the robot interprets its environment and humans. Recognising the intentions of one another plays a key role: a human must be able to anticipate the robot’s actions, and, in the same way, the robot must be able to anticipate human actions. Dialogical interaction solutions are needed in this field as well.

Autonomous cars and other vehicles largely function on their own, but when they encounter a problematic situation, they may easily need human assistance. In such a situation, it is good if the machine has kept the human up to date on what is going on, so that he or she may quickly resolve the problematic situation. Indicating and recognising intentions is important also with a view to bystanders: when pedestrians encounter an autonomous car, how can they be sure that the car has seen them and stops at a pedestrian crossing to give way for them? How do you establish an eye contact with an autonomous car?

Different smart services at home and in offices strive to fulfil people’s wishes and predict their desires. Often such services remain unnoticed by people, in which case it may remain unclear why air conditioning is blowing at full blast or why the temperature does not rise. An easy interaction channel is needed, so that people can find out why things are going the way they are going, and that they can influence matters.

AI is not infallible − it can make mistakes and it may have faults. Once humans learn to understand the limitations of AI, and the way AI draws conclusions and functions, the interaction between them will become easier. When people understand the basics of the way AI functions, they can put themselves on a level with it, in the same manner as people naturally tune into the same level with the person they are talking with.  It is important to develop AI solutions in such a manner that people who will work with AI are allowed to participate in the design of the solutions.

Read more: VTT and Smart City

Kaasinen Eija
Eija Kaasinen
Senior Scientist, VTT



Pysyykö tekoäly ihmisen hallinnassa?

Miten tekoälyn kanssa voi kommunikoida sujuvasti? Voiko tekoälyn kanssa tehdä yhteistyötä?

Nykyiset koneoppimiseen perustuvat tekoälysysteemit ovat usein itsenäisiä toimijoita, jotka tuovat johtopäätöksensä ihmisten tiedoksi mutta eivät muuten paljon ole vuorovaikutuksessa ihmisten kanssa.  Tekoälyä on tulossa yhä enemmän paitsi verkon kautta saataviin palveluihin myös liikkuviin koneisiin kuten autonomisiin autoihin ja robotteihin. On syytä miettiä, miten tekoäly varmasti pysyy ihmisen hallinnassa sekä miten ihminen voi ja miten pitää voida olla vuorovaikutuksessa tekoälyn kanssa.

Sanallinen ja sanaton viestintä

Teknologian trendianalyyseissa tekoälyn vuorovaikutusominaisuudet on tunnistettu seuraavaksi merkittäväksi kehitysaskeleeksi. Keskusteleva vuorovaikutus ei vaadi käyttäjää etsimään ja opettelemaan komentoja vaan oikea toiminto neuvotellaan vapaassa keskustelussa koneen kanssa. Vuorovaikutusta voi täydentää sanaton viestintä niin, että kone tunnistaa ja reagoi ihmisen tunnetilaan, kuten esimerkiksi siihen, että ihminen on ymmällään. Kone voi oppia tunnistamaan yksilöitä ja muokata toimintaansa sen mukaan, mitkä asiat ovat tälle henkilölle tuttuja, mitkä outoja, ja miten hän mieluiten toimii. Henkilökohtaiset virtuaaliapulaiset, kuten Applen Siri, pyrkivät luomaan suhteen omistajaansa ja oppimaan hänen mieltymyksensä niin, että pystyvät ajan myötä ennakoimaan ihmisen tarpeita ja tarjoamaan apua jo ennen kuin ihminen sitä ehtii itse pyytää.

Verkossa voi useinkin törmätä keskustelurobotteihin (chatbot). Ne ovat jo kohtuullisen taitavia ja niiden kanssa asioidessa ei edes heti huomaa, että vastassa ei olekaan oikea ihminen. Keskustelukyky perustuu siihen, että keskustelurobotti tuntee hyvin rajatun palvelualueen, jolla se toimii. Se on oppinut ennakoimaan, minkä tyyppisiä kysymyksiä ihmisillä on. Keskustelurobotti voi joskus tuntua vähän töykeältä, se johtunee siitä, että niitä ohjelmoivat ihmiset, joiden omat käytöstavat siirtynevät robotille.

Kiinnostus on kasvamassa sellaisiin tekoälyratkaisuihin, joissa ihmiset ja tekoäly toimivat yhteistyössä.  Ihmisten joukkovoimaa voidaan käyttää esimerkiksi tietojen keräämiseen tai kuvien tulkitsemiseen ratkaisuissa, joissa laaja joukko ihmisiä ja tekoäly muodostavat yhdessä toimivan kokonaisuuden. Globaalia älyä on käytetty esimerkiksi vanhojen tekstien digitoinnissa. Ihmissilmä on ylivertainen tunnistamaan sanoja oudoillakin kirjasimilla kirjoitettuna. Kun tekoäly tekee helpot tekstien tunnistamiset ja antaa ihmisten tehtäväksi epäselvät tapaukset, niin joukkovoimalla työ etenee vauhdikkaasti.

Sujuva vuorovaikutus vaatii  oppimista ja osallistumista

Ihmisen ja tekoälyn sujuvassa vuorovaikutuksessa riittää kehittämistä monella alueella. Tulevaisuudessa teollisuudessa nähdään yhä enemmän ihmisten ja robottien muodostamia tiimejä. Robotti voi toimia ihmisen apurina myös monenlaisissa huolto- ja palvelutehtävissä. Sujuva vuorovaikutus perustuu tekoälyyn, jonka avulla robotti tulkitsee ympäristöään ja ihmistä. Keskeistä on aikeiden tunnistaminen puolin ja toisin: ihmisen tulee pystyä ennakoimaan robotin toimia ja samoin robotin tulee ennakoida ihmisen toimia. Keskustelevia vuorovaikutusratkaisuja tarvitaan tälläkin alueella.

Autonomiset autot ja muut kulkuneuvot toimivat suurelta osin itsenäisesti, mutta kun eteen tulee pulmatilanne, tarvitaan helposti ihmistä apuun. Silloin on hyvä, jos ihminen on pidetty koko ajan tilanteen tasalla, jotta hän voi nopeasti selvittää, miten ongelmasta päästään yli. Aikeiden ilmaisu ja tunnistaminen on tärkeää myös sivullisten kannalta: kun jalankulkija kohtaa autonomisen auton, miten hän voi varmistua, että auto on havainnut hänet ja pysähtyy suojatien eteen antamaan tietä? Miten autonomiseen autoon saadaan katsekontakti?

Erilaiset älykkäät palvelut kodissa tai toimistossa pyrkivät täyttämään ihmisen toiveet ja ennakoimaan toiveita. Usein palvelut eivät näyttäydy ihmiselle, jolloin saattaa jäädä epäselväksi, miksi ilmastointi hurisee täysillä tai miksi lämpötila ei nouse. Tarvitaan sujuva vuorovaikutuskanava, jotta ihminen saa selville, miksi asiat menevät niin kuin menevät ja että asioihin voi vaikuttaa.

Tekoäly ei ole erehtymätön, se voi tehdä virheitä ja siihen voi tulla vikoja. Kun ihmiset oppivat ymmärtämään tekoälyn rajoitteet ja tekoälyn tavan päätellä ja toimia, niin vuorovaikutuskin helpottuu. Kun ihminen ymmärtää tekoälyn toiminnan perusteita, hän osaa asettua samalle tasolle sen kanssa, samaan tapaan kuin ihminen luontevasti virittäytyy ihmiskeskustelukumppaninsa tasolle.  Tekoälyratkaisuja on tärkeää kehittää niin että ihmiset, jotka tekoälyn kanssa tulevat toimimaan, otetaan mukaan ratkaisujen suunnitteluun.

Kaasinen Eija
Eija Kaasinen
Senior Scientist, VTT

How will we manage with artificial intelligence in the future?

What is machine learning? Why does artificial intelligence draw conclusions differently than humans do? How does artificial intelligence become superintelligence?

Early this year, I spent a night at a big hotel in Berlin. When I stepped into my room, it felt quite cool inside. There was a sticker by the door, telling that the hotel had introduced a ”Smart climate control” system and I could adjust the temperature to the desired level through my TV. I opened the TV and navigated to the climate control page through various turns. And there it was: the present temperature was 18 degrees and the target temperature set by the previous customer was 25. I set the target temperature to 22 degrees and went out to have dinner. When I returned to my room, the temperature had climbed to 19 degrees, probably due to my PC which I had left on in the room. It still felt quite cool, so I called the hotel reception for help. The help soon arrived. A janitor brought an old-style fan heater for my use. I could not keep the noisy fan on at night, so the temperature dropped back to around 18 degrees for the night. However, in the morning, I woke up well rested after a good night’s sleep. After all, you sleep better in a cool environment. This left me wondering that maybe the smart climate control was smart enough to understand better than I what was the ideal temperature for me. I would still have appreciated some kind of an explanation, because the “smart” system that does what it pleases without giving any say to a human left me feeling powerless. The hotel staff had also clearly resigned itself in front of the smart climate control and did not even try to fix the system in my room but resorted to using a good old fan heater. If the system really was smart, would it not also keep people up to date on the decisions it has made, telling what it is aiming at. If it does not function or cannot fulfil people’s wishes, would it not also give a reason for this?

From artificial intelligence to superintelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been studied for decades, but now it is experiencing a strong renaissance. The earlier attempts to bring all expert knowledge on one subject into a single machine were defeated by their own impossibility. Today, the prevailing trend is the development of an AI based on machine learning, where the idea is that the machine learns little by little when being taught, but also on its own. Machine learning is well suited for the analysis of large masses of data and for supporting people in data-based decision-making. In medicine, for example, AI allows examination of different measurement data, and the machine can draw connections between data. Therefore, AI can be used for such a purpose as forecasting the development of a disease, when a patient’s data is compared to data on earlier patients. It is typical of machine learning that the result is not exact, but it is a probability-based forecast. That is why a machine cannot give similar detailed explanations for its conclusions as a human expert can.

A lot is expected of machine learning not only in medicine, but also in service business of companies, where AI can be used for analysing machine data collected from the field and forecasting, for example, occurrence of faults. In such applications, AI functions independently, analysing data and giving suggestions to people about the next necessary maintenance measures and even about their suitable timing, considering the financial factors.

In addition to these positive effects, futures researchers have also been painting some very gloomy scenarios about the “superintelligence” of the future that would be able to, for example, develop its own intelligence, draw its own conclusions and generate a will of its own, and could thus get out of the hands of both its designers and users.

What would be a potential path from the present machine learning-based AI systems to such superintelligence? AI is being introduced not only to services accessible via the internet, but also to mobile machines, such as autonomous cars and robots. Would this be the right time to consider making the future development paths such that the AI will remain under human control for sure?

A clever person solves the problems a wise person knows to avoid. This old wisdom should be applied to AI as well: if AI represents the cleverness and humans represent the wisdom, then humans must be secured a role in which they can prevent problems that AI might cause to itself or to humans. There must be an easy connection between AI and humans, and humans must have the final decision-making power. This prevents AI from getting out of human hands even as it learns new things.

In the next part of the blog series, I will focus more on the interaction between humans and AI.

Read more: VTT and Smart City

Kaasinen Eija
Eija Kaasinen
Senior Scientist, VTT


In the next part of the blog series, I will focus more on the interaction between humans and AI.

Pärjäämmekö tulevaisuuden tekoälyn kanssa?

Mitä on koneoppiminen? Miksi tekoäly päättelee eri tavoin kuin ihminen? Miten tekoälystä tulee superälyä?

Yövyin alkuvuodesta isossa hotellissa Berliinissä. Huoneeseen astuessani siellä tuntui olevan viileää. Ovensuusta löytyi tarra, jossa kerrottiin, että hotellissa oli otettu käyttöön ”Smart climate control” javoisin itse säätää haluamani lämpötilan TV:n kautta. Avasin TV:n ja navigoin muutaman mutkan kautta ilmastointisivulle. Sieltähän se löytyi: nykyinen lämpötila 18 astetta ja edellisen asiakkaan asettama tavoitelämpö 25. Säätelin tavoitelämmön 22 asteeseen ja lähdin illalliselle. Palattuani lämpö oli kivunnut 19 asteeseen, johtuen varmaankin huoneeseen päälle jääneestä PC:stäni. Aika viileältä tuntui vielä, joten soittelin apua hotellin vastaanotosta. Pian apua tulikin. Huoltomies toi käyttööni vanhan ajan lämpöpuhaltimen. Kovaäänistä puhallinta ei voinut pitää yöllä päällä, joten yöksi lämpö taas laski 18 asteen tuntumaan. Aamulla heräsin kuitenkin virkeänä oikein hyvin nukutun yön jälkeen, sillä onhan se niin, että viileässä nukkuu paremmin. Jäinkin miettimään, että ehkä se Smart climate control oli niin fiksu, että se tajusi minua paremmin minulle sopivan lämpötilan. Olisin kuitenkin arvostanut jonkinlaista selitystä, sillä nyt jäi voimaton olo ”älykkäästä” systeemistä, joka tekee mitä tahtoo, eikä ihmisellä ole siihen sanomista. Hotellin henkilöstökin oli selvästi alistunut älykkään ilmastoinnin edessä, eikä edes yrittänyt korjata huoneeni systeemiä vaan tukeutui vanhaan kunnon lämpöpuhaltimeen. Eikö oikeasti fiksu systeemi pitäisi myös ihmisen ajan tasalla päätöksistään – kertoisi, mihin se pyrkii. Jos se ei toimi tai ei pysty täyttämään ihmisen toivetta, niin myös kertoo syyn tälle?

Tekoälystä superälyyn

Tekoälyä on tutkittu jo vuosikymmeniä, mutta nyt se on kokemassa vahvan renessanssin. Aiemmat yritykset, joissa koneeseen koetettiin tuoda jonkun aiheenkaikki asiantuntijatietämys, kaatuivat omaan mahdottomuuteensa. Nykyään vallalla on koneoppimiseen perustuva tekoälyn kehittäminen, jossa ajatuksena on, että kone oppii pikkuhiljaa, kun sitä opetetaan, mutta myös itsekseen. Koneoppiminen soveltuu hyvin isojen datamäärien analysointiin ja tukemaan ihmistä datapohjaisessa päätöksenteossa. Esimerkiksi lääketieteessä tekoälyn avulla voidaan tutkia erilaisia mittauksia, ja kone pystyy muodostamaan yhteyksiä datan välille. Näin tekoälyn avulla voidaan muun muassa ennustaa taudin kehittymistä, kun verrataan potilasdataa aiempien potilaiden dataan. Koneoppimiselle on tyypillistä, että tulos ei ole eksakti vaan se on todennäköisyyksiin perustuva ennustus. Siksi kone ei pysty antamaan johtopäätöksilleen samanlaisia yksityiskohtaisia perusteluja kuin ihmisasiantuntija.

Koneoppimiselta odotetaan paljon paitsi lääketieteessä myös yritysten palveluliiketoiminnassa, jossa tekoälyn avulla voidaan analysoida kentältä kerättyä laitetietoa ja ennustaa esimerkiksi vikaantumista. Näissä sovelluksissa tekoäly toimii itsenäisesti, analysoi dataa ja antaa ihmisille ehdotuksia seuraavaksi tarvittavista huoltotoimista ja jopa niiden sopivasta ajankohdasta ottaen huomioon taloudelliset tekijät.

Näiden positiivisten vaikutusten lisäksi tulevaisuuden tutkijat ovat maalailleet synkkiäkin tulevaisuudenkuvia tulevaisuuden ”superälystä”, joka pystyisi esimerkiksi itse kehittämään omaa älykkyyttään, tekisi itse johtopäätöksiä, muodostaisi oman tahdon ja näin voisi karata niin suunnittelijoiden kuin käyttäjienkin käsistä.

Millainen olisi mahdollinen polku nykyisistä koneoppimiseen perustuvista tekoälysysteemeistä tuohon superälyyn? Tekoälyä on tulossa paitsi verkon kautta saataviin palveluihin myös liikkuviin koneisiin kuten autonomisiin autoihin ja robotteihin. Olisiko nyt jo syytä miettiä kehityspolkuja sellaisiksi, että tekoäly varmasti pysyy ihmisen hallinnassa?

Älykäs ihminen osaa ratkaista ongelmat, joihin viisas ihminen ei edes joudu. Tätä vanhaa viisautta kannattaa soveltaa myös tekoälyyn: jos tekoäly edustaa älykkyyttä ja ihminen viisautta, niin ihmiselle on taattava rooli, jossa hän pystyy estämään tekoälyn itselleen ja ihmisille aiheuttamat ongelmat. Tekoälyn ja ihmisen välillä on oltava sujuva yhteys ja päätösvallan pitää viime kädessä olla ihmisellä. Näin tekoäly ei oppiessaankaan karkaa ihmisten hallinnasta.

Lue lisää: VTT and Smart City

Kaasinen Eija
Eija Kaasinen
Senior Scientist, VTT


Blogisarjan seuraavassa osassa paneudutaan ihmisen ja tekoälyn vuorovaikutukseen.

Taking your memory-filled home with you when moving to sheltered housing?

Our national and municipal policies on the elderly underscore that the best place for an aged person is home. Still, unfortunately many elderly people find themselves in a situation, where the home intended for their final years suddenly turns into a ‘flat’ only, lacking the spirit emanating from the memories and meanings of one’s own home.  When designing gerontechnology, the elderly should always be consulted directly. Would it be the time to set up an idea movement for the ageing population?

When different impairments force an elderly person to move to a barrier-free and sheltered – and in many cases quite small – flat, the decision on the ‘placement’ and even its furnishing is often made by someone else, and, in the worst case, a total stranger. In such a process, the elderly person easily feels lost, since isn’t it your own life history and the meanings and memories embedded in the objects at home that create the feeling of belonging to a specific place?

Hilkka has been living in the same neighbourhood all her life. Her birthplace is only one kilometre away, and she has already lived in this house for more than 40 years. These rooms and furniture carry the marks of her life. The chest of drawers and chairs tell stories about what has happened along her life’s journey. They represent the family and Hilkka’s inheritance and identity. Many generations have had the pleasure of using the sofa and armchair set, leaving their ornamented arm rests shiny from years of use. And that kitchen cabinet Hilkka varnished together with her husband. But now the time has come for Hilkka to move out from this home. Moving away is difficult. Being torn away from a bigger house into a smaller place, from familiar to unknown, from one’s own peace and quiet into a nursing home or sheltered housing and life under the eyes of others. Letting go of one’s own will and dear belongings, under the authority of others? On the other hand, living at home on one’s own is taxing. Not only physically, but also mentally, because loneliness is overpowering. The visits of the home care nurse for ‘securing maximum support’ – no matter if they take place three times a day – have not been enough to ease the need to chat with someone, have a coffee together and recount memories of one’s own life. Sharing things around one’s own coffee table would lift up one’s spirits.

Alli Wiherheimo, the first editor-in-chief of the Kotiliesi magazine, once said that home is not a place, but a strength. Home is the safe haven, where we have always returned from the stormy winds of the world. Many elderly people have had their home in the same address, adorned with the same furnishings and objects for decades. Carved in those carefully preserved and acquired ornaments and pieces of furniture rest the elderly person’s memory, life history, values and the sense of belonging: furniture passed on in the family, the crafts created by one’s spouse, and wedding and anniversary gifts. How could one ever decide what to take with you in this final move, and what to leave behind? How could one even fit one’s inner spirit into the small room of a nursing home and display it?

In his novel Fields of Glory (1990, translation into English by Ralph Manheim), Jean Rouaud writes about the situation, where his grandmother moved from a large house in the south of France to a small flat: ”The move from thirteen rooms to two meant parting not only with the accumulation of a lifetime but also with the bequests of earlier generations. More than asceticism, it was a sweeping away of memory. Still, it was grandmother’s recollection of this past that drove her to keep two or three heirlooms, in particular a cumbersome, poorly designed work table, when she could have kept the attractive mahogany bookcase with the oval glass panes in the same space and to better advantage. But this work table was her mother, her grandmother, herself and every industrious woman in the family – it was a stele.”

90% of designing well-being technology for the elderly should be contemplation of life

Technology can be used in a number of ways to support the domestic life of elderly people. It is already possible to produce innovative and responsible solutions for purposes such as thermal comfort and lighting, and monitoring changes in people’s physical and cognitive functioning capacity in a home environment. But could technology also enable bringing the memory-filled spirit of an old home to a new flat? Could artificial intelligence even sense a resident’s emotional state and create ‘cosiness’ during moody or anxious spells? And what would this include? Studies show that anxiety due to memory disorders can be alleviated through fragrances and music. Certain fragrances and types of music soothe patients and help them to sleep. The patient’s own, virtually created, home surroundings would probably have a similar effect. But what about a person with a healthy memory? Would virtual reality provide a natural return to the atmosphere and memories of their old home? Wandering in your own garden surrounded by birdsong, the humming of bees and the fragrance of roses would certainly be wonderful. Technology could at least enable new kinds of communication with friends and relatives. Together with artificial intelligence, virtual reality could provide people with a rich experience based on reliving their memories together with others – in that garden, for example – making even a new residence feel like home.

One factor related to the ‘spirit of home’ is the installing of safety technology in an elderly person’s home. The results of the TuTunKo project (The feeling of safety at home), implemented jointly by VTT and the University of Oulu, showed that, in the home environment, the feeling of safety can be strengthened in many different areas.  However, when installing different surveillance and monitoring devices, it should be kept in mind that the home should still remain a home without the elderly person’s flat turning into a ‘virtual hospital’ or ‘monitoring point’, where total strangers with different nursing backgrounds have ‘legalised entry’.

90% of designing well-being technology for the elderly should be contemplation of life. A home – whether sheltered housing or a house built with own hands – should enable elderly people to maintain not only their autonomy, life management and the sense of belonging, but also their beauty welfare. It should ensure that the aesthetic features of their homes are in harmony with their wishes regarding beauty. For many people, this feeling comes from the subjectively experienced beauty of the belongings in one’s own home and the spirit of home thus created. A lacy doily placed on the computer CPU in an elderly person’s home tells about her attempt to reduce the conflict between her own concept of beauty and the external appearance of the device. This may be of surprisingly big importance for how acceptable the person considers technology.

When designing gerontechnology, the elderly should always be consulted directly. Ten years ago, VTT implemented the idea movement of the ageing population, where VTT collaborated with 750 elderly people living in different parts of Finland to come up with different potential uses for mobile phones. In the project that empowered both researchers and the participants, active aged people produced over 4,500 useful, funny and even quite extraordinary ideas for using the mobile phone. The ideas were compiled into an open database, from where they have been used for different development projects.

In ten years, technology has taken major leaps forward, and there are new technologies available that could support good living and good quality of life. Would it be the time to set up an idea movement for the ageing population again, this time about the dream home?

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Jaana Leikas
Principal Scientist, VTT