Can automated technology — including AI — help with ALS?

Wishing for its assistance for speech symptoms and, one day, a cure

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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For a while now, I’ve been keeping tabs on the new technologies of virtual assistants, voice activation, and artificial intelligence (AI), especially its potential benefits for the ALS community. Some of it I’ve tried, with iffy results. Others, like AI, are on my wish list to help erase ALS altogether.

Here’s a quick look at what I’ve been doing.

The introduction of voice activation and virtual assistants happened a few years before I began experiencing my ALS-related voice issues in 2017. At that time, I read that the software would quickly learn its owner’s voice inflections, especially those who speak English with a heavy foreign accent. So figuring mine was just an “ALS accent,” I held high hopes that our new Echo Show and Alexa devices would help me.

But no amount of repetition, variation in tone, or cajoling on my part would activate the devices. Or if they did hear me, their responses left me feeling I was a contestant in an online comedy game show. Eventually, I gave up trying and used the text-to-talk app on my cellphone, to direct its automated voice to speak to my devices.

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On the positive side, being rejected by technology motivated me to begin a quest to improve my pronunciation and speaking skills. I even bought a personal microphone to increase the volume of my voice.

Now, several years later, our Echo Show and Alexa still don’t recognize my voice, but the humans around me do. I’m actually grateful for the push to be mindful of my speech, breathing, and pacing of words.

Smart homes

While I know they exist, my husband and I haven’t yet ventured into the world of smart home appliances. That’s mostly because they were initially only activated by voice, and well, that’s not a good match for me.

Now, options exist to connect a smart home’s devices to each other and control them via a smartphone or tablet, but we’ll still pass — although I’ve read many positive accounts from other ALS patients who live with smart home technology.

AI, oh my!

Artificial intelligence is the wave of the future and will soon become dominant in our lives. I applaud its ability to gather data quickly, analyze them, and produce an answer. This we need for ongoing ALS research, diagnosis, and, ultimately, to discover a cure.

But I’m on the fence about other applications of AI. For example, I don’t think it could write this column, capturing the experience of living with ALS or sharing motivational strategies.

Technology can provide valuable assistance to those of us living with physical disabilities. But we need to remain cautiously optimistic about those future possibilities.

Right now, we have one another. Right now, we’re the best option to help one another learn to live well with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Alan T. Waite avatar

Alan T. Waite

Dabmar, I totally agree with your assessment of AI and its importance in speeding the process for finding a cure for ALS. I trust the medical community is putting an effort in this technology. I am also hesitant in its broader use in our everyday lives.


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