We've already heard that smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo might soon be able to call 999 for you (but in the meantime, please don't rely on Alexa to contact the authorities), and now it seems they'll perform another vital role in the UK.
According to a new report commissioned by the NHS, voice assistants like Alexa are a logical way to improve the level of care the health service is able to offer, and could help identify patients at risk of suicide or self-harm.
Written by Dr Eric Topol, the report also mentions potential future uses of tech including VR therapy and AI scanners. It also reveals that some hospices in London are preparing for AI patient services, which is somewhat surprising.
Funding for mental health services has been in crisis for some time, and using technology to alleviate some of the pressure makes sense as long as it doesn't lead to alienation. On the one hand, the tech already exists in thousands of people's homes and wouldn't have to be provided by the NHS. On the other, trying to tell a voice chatbot about your deepest problems might not feel too reassuring.
Nailing the emotional side of voice-controlled tech is a big priority for manufacturers, hence the many adorable 'companion' robots with faces. The ideal would be some kind of authentic emotional connection with a machine until such time as a real medical professional can see you, but that's a tricky balance to get right.
We'll be interested to see how this develops. In the meantime, though, we should probably stick to asking Alexa to turn the lights off – she gets that wrong often enough as it is. [Techradar]