In retrospect, the development path of Artificial Intelligence is like a sine wave, where each “rise” is a new idea. Now we see more and more innovative ideas and ways of implementing them. This means the direction we are heading to has a bunch of prospects for all possible realms. And what about psychology? What changes and innovations can be made with AI here? In this article, I tried to gather maximum information to represent the whole picture of the current situation and answer the main question: can AI be an effective therapist?
What Is AI’s Superpower for Study of the Mental Processes?
Despite how talented all psychologists like Freud and Jung were, psychology still has one big drawback up to date. Everybody knows psychology was never called an exact science. There is no admission of absolute precision in the results and a bunch of conflicting approaches. So yes, psychologists themselves still can not accurately explain the nature of the psyche and some even put it on par with astrology and homeopathy.
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So what the problem and why this subject cannot be exact finally? Well, let’s start with even the smallest mental phenomenon. It is a huge data set with myriads of hard variables to systemize. A whole slew of scientists and psychology researchers were unable to make exact assumptions during a couple of centuries and probably they never will do this. But wait, what if to pass this case into the hands of artificial intelligence?
Yet part of what practicing psychologists do, like administering certain types of psychological tests, assessments, and questionnaires, can be facilitated with AI and ML algorithms. One more problem with psychology today is in its price. Nearly $201 billion is spent on mental health annually. But, progress in AI will bring therapy to more people who need it for an affordable price. And the technology is growing exponentially more sophisticated. So, let’s see how it can be done right now.
Be Ready to See Virtual Therapist Soon
Now there are a huge number of startups aimed at creating a virtual psychologist who would work as well as a real specialist. At the moment, all these projects have linked AI and virtual reality to generate a virtual therapist that can communicate with clients in real-time.
Here is a simple explanation of how it works. From the resulting database, the answers are formed depending on the question being asked, giving the answer an emotional color. Thus, the machine is able not only to give advice but also to express sympathy and offer several solutions to the problem.
Here are a few existing startups:
Quartet Health is the name of AI-powered chatbot that puts to use machine learning powers to make diagnose and supply a customized treatment program.
Ellie is one more good and popular AI-powered therapist. This chatbot was developed to treat veterans suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. Ellie could carefully analyze facial expressions, head gestures, eye movements, and voice sound to recognize those indicators typically related to depression and PTSD.
And when it comes to chatbots-psychologist, it is hard to avoid such enterprise as X2A, which contain a few startups at once:
1) Karim — Arabic speaking platform to help Syrian refugees;
2) Emma is a Dutch-language virtual psychologist created to help people with mild anxiety and fear;
3) Nema — virtual therapist to provide pediatric diabetes care (in English).
And there is a myriad of other similar startups. Of course, at the moment the answers of the majority of virtual assistants are quite standard, but their text messages are not meaningless. We should consider its imperfections only as a starting point. After all, the system itself continues to learn, and in the future, the researchers plan to bring the AI to a level where, in compiling the answer, their “psychologist” will give more accurate answers.
How AI Can Identify and Treat Depression
Depression is a widespread illness, which leaves the person disarmed and not able to do at least something. It is a very often case when people simply do not want to have a direct meeting with a specialist and need anonymity. Another reason why people do not want visiting therapist is the lack of knowledge if they have depression at all.
Great solution for this is the easy-to-use app. Plus, taking into account the gap between the availability of real expert and the cost of each therapy session keeps rising, the demand for digitized healthcare apps has increased steadfastly. And when it comes to depression, there are possible solutions that AI offers:
- Touchskin is an India and UK-based healthcare project that introduced Wysa, an AI-powered chatbot to determine and treat depression. The app gives its users with features like guided and unguided meditation, reminders via message and progress tracking.
- Yet another recognized name is Woebot, a chatbot that adopts Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches for depression. The app sends over a million messages per week to assist its users to deal with depression, anxiety, relationship problems and more.
- MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) researchers have developed a neural-network model that can analyze raw text and audio data from interviews to discover speech patterns indicative of depression. The system, pioneered by MIT’s CSAIL group, can accurately predict if the individual is depressed, without needing any other information.
Using all those apps and more, depression sufferers can quickly determine if they have depression or not without direct meeting with specialists and get help for free.
AI to Treat Neurological Disorders and Prescribe a Cure
Another field where artificial intelligence managed to show its strength for psychology is the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders. In particular, for this AI uses personalized medicine, seizure management, and drug discovery and now with this approach can treat epilepsy. One of the most successful projects of this kind is Embrace. Developed by Empatica, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it is first-ever non-EEG based physiology signal seizure monitoring system.
Monitoring is simple — patients wear smartwatches that detects possible seizures through movement electrical impulse in the skin. Plus, such watches alert caregivers and provide location GPS data. Embrace stores and analyzes patterns during sleep and wakefulness to provide important insights.
But the treatment of neurological disorders is not all that AI can offer today. And although it’s hard to call it a super innovation, it’s worth paying attention. Artificial intelligence is able to quickly form medical formulations and prescribe a cure. Atomwise and MedClueRx are just some of these projects, and there are certainly a lot of them. They can easily determine which drugs are most needed for nerve disorders, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and epilepsy.
Especially I see nothing but positive aspects in this because in this way medicine workers are up to facilitate their everyday routine and do what is really important.
What Makes Virtual Therapist Able to Perform so Well?
Chatbots like Ellie, Woebot and more are proved to be a really efficient and popular tool to cure people with mental illness. But why people choose virtual assistant over real one specialists? Well, it is quite interesting, but we find it simpler to share possibly embarrassing nuances with a virtual assistant.
In human-to-human interaction, there is often a degree of self-restraint. Shame can block us from sharing openly. In psychology, this problem can lead to distortion of the whole therapy! Nevertheless, when sitting with a virtual assistant, subjects were found to be more willing to express. With AI-powered bot, patients are likely to report not feeling judged. This fact could have a significant curative benefit.
Final Word: Can AI Replace Psychologist?
Well, personally I don’t think it is possible. I see that in the future psychology and AI research will grow together more and more. But, even though psychotherapy chatbots and all others bots can mimic human emotions in speech and visual form, it is a long road ahead before ultimately relying on AI and ML capabilities. Especially such field like psychological counseling requires more human intervention than a machine, and it always will be so.
So, why consider AI integration into psychology at all? First, it would be useful to find the means to penetrate into the wonderful world of our thinking, in all its real layers and forms. And if AI will be able to explore human consciousness and thinking deeply, we finally get new information about human! So, the primary purpose of AI for psychology is to receive new knowledge on the basis of which it can finally become an exact science — and in no way replace the psychologist.
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