Every day, Kathleen McVicar of Cotuit, Mass., has a few simple questions for her 85-year-old mother in Virginia. How well did she sleep? Did she remember to eat breakfast, to take her meds, to check her voicemails?

McVicar could get the answers by making an endless series of phone calls throughout the day. Instead, she just checks her email every morning. The previous day’s answers are there, rounded up and compiled by her mother’s voice-activated personal assistant, a device called LifePod which is programmed to ask questions instead of just answering them.

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