Artificial Psychologist or Psychological Intelligence?
In 2021, Mental health is one of the trending subjects. The pandemic has brought us many undesirable consequences not only to our daily routine but also to our mindset. Different people experience different psychological after-effects they have never had before. It could be a new obsession with keeping everything clean or some other issues that we all had to face at a different scale. Some habits that we acquired during the last year like washing hands or give away banknotes forever — bring no harm. However, there are many other consequences that lay deeper and might be more damaging to our overall mental state.
Apart from newly acquired habits and threats to mental health, the pandemic has shown us that there is a certain gap in the accessibility of healthcare services. Here, by healthcare services, I mean both physiological and psychological.
Many people have found themselves literally unable to visit their mental health therapist or even a family doctor due to pandemic conditions.
Even before the pandemic emerged, psychological care was not that accessible for many. Some people have been still considering mental care as a overrated and expensive. Why? Firstly, it can be hard to find a good therapist. Secondly, when you finally find a good therapist, usually their rate per hour is not very price-friendly for everyone. And also, a full therapy is usually a long-term process.
As we see here, the problem of accessibility of mental care is there. Similar to many other industries, AI-powered tools have managed to close different gaps. Here I would like to cover how AI can help the mental health industry and make it more accessible, price-friendly and effective.
In his article, Michael Rucker (2020) notes that the International Committee of the Red Cross recognized that although messaging-app bots are price-friendly and easy to use, the initial reviews of these chatbots in 2017 were mixed. Chatbots do not have a mind of their own, so they have to follow a pre-written script.
The author also mentions that according to experts, this software will probably make the most sense when it’s used in a conjunction with a human therapist (Michael Rucker, 2020).
In 2016, the Institute for Creative Technologies introduced Ellie — the robot therapist treating soldiers with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ellie is created to detect verbal and nonverbal indications of PTSD by following a specially prepared script. The robot asks the most common leading questions and gathers answers of patients. The key to her success is that she listens without prejudice, allowing patients to fully open up. Apart from the verbal data, the robot also collects facial expressions, eye gaze direction, gestures, smile level and other non-verbal signs of depression. Ellie was created to collect and gather information about patients but she cannot prescribe treatment or medicine. Instead, she is used in cooperation with human doctors.
“The behavioural indicators that Ellie identifies will be summarised to the doctor, who will integrate it as part of the treatment or therapy. Our vision is that Ellie will be a decision support tool that will help human doctors and clinicians during treatment and therapy.” — says co-creator of Ellie, Professor Louis-Philippe Morency.
Below is the example of a session lead by Ellie:
This is only one of the examples of AI psychologist and there already are many more.
But are we far from getting an accessible AI therapist?
They already exist, so not that far. Right now, if you want to get some AI-operated psychological help, you can talk to Siri or Alexa.
I’m an iPhone user, so I decided to talk to Siri:
Me: Siri, I’m sad.
Siri: You can always count on me.
Me: I think I have a depression.
Siri: I’m very sorry to hear that. I’m always ready to talk to you.
Me: Siri, I think I’m not good at anything.
Siri: I don’t know what does it mean: ‘Siri, I think I’m not good at anything’. Do I need to look through the Internet for this query?
Well, the talk went better than I expected.
I thought that Siri would immediately shift me to Google or Safari under a query: ‘I’m sad’. It would also be fair to note, that Siri or Alexa are not considered as AI-powered psychologists, but rather personal assistants.
In this case, Siri cannot assist me with full mental health support, however, it can help me, as an owner, by observing my interactions with it and further searches. If it detects a crisis, it can even summon help (Bird, R., 2018).
In the nearest future, this application of AI will not only be more developed but also much more spread, delivering better and much more accessible mental health care for everyone.