(2017-06-18) Spock Inspired Chatbot Wants To Talk About Your Mental Health

This adorable, Spock-inspired chatbot wants to talk about your mental health

When you launch Woebot in Facebook Messenger, the chatbot's cerulean blue eyes peer out from the screen. He looks concerned, a little quizzical. He invites you to chat. Within a few messages he explains his purpose: "So here's how I work, I'm going to ask you about your mood and as I get to know you, I'll teach you some good stuff."

Woebot is one of the first chatbots of its kind. It debuted publicly this week as a subscription service with a $39 monthly fee. X2AI, which is not widely available yet, uses artificial intelligence to provide mental health support. Joy is a free AI chatbot that tracks how your emotions and gives related tips on feeling better. Both Woebot and Joy operate on Facebook Messenger.

Research conducted by the federal government in 2015 found that only 41 percent of U.S. adults with a mental health condition in the previous year had gotten treatment. That dismal treatment rate has to do with cost, logistics, stigma, and being poorly matched with a professional

but research found that very few of the apps are based on rigorous science or are even tested to see if they work.

That's why Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist at Stanford University and CEO and founder of Woebot wants to set a higher standard for chatbots. Darcy co-authored a small study published this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research that demonstrated Woebot can reduce symptoms of depression in two weeks.

Woebot presumably does this in part by drawing on techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

He wants you to start understanding the tenets of CBT, and help you identify harmful thought patterns, so there are contrasts between harsh and gentle self-criticism.

The AI, Darcy says, has been built to pick up on emotional signals like anxiety, sadness, and anger in language, and then use clinical decision-making tools to provide tips on how to better understand or even reframe those sentiments so that they don't trigger a psychological downward spiral.


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