There is a new shrink in town. This digital therapist has a name, Woebot.
In a new article published by MIT Technology Review, they explore what could be the next generation of chatbot created to battle against the skyrocketing increase in mental health issues.
The project is being led by Andrew Ng. On Andrew’s website, he identifies as “VP & Chief Scientist of Baidu; Co-Chairman and Co-Founder of Coursera; and an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University.”
— MIT Tech Review (@techreview) October 19, 2017
MIT Tech Review states about Woebot “it’s a Facebook chatbot developed by Stanford University researchers that offers interactive cognitive behavioral therapy. And Andrew Ng, a prominent figure who previously led efforts to develop and apply the latest AI technologies at Google and Baidu, is now lending his backing to the project by joining the board of directors of the company offering its services.”
In lamens terms, future shrinks might just be algorithms on your smartphone or computer.
Woebot is the brainchild of clinical research psychologist Alison Darcy. MIT Tech review reports that Darcy “says the work going on there in applying techniques like deep learning to conversational agents inspired her to think that therapy could be delivered by a bot. She says it is possible to automate cognitive behavioral therapy because it follows a series of steps for identifying and addressing unhelpful ways of thinking. And recent advances in natural-language processing have helped make chatbots more useful within limited domains.”
The article’s author Will Knight tested the software and stated about his experience, “I found Woebot to be surprisingly good at what it does. A chatbot might seem like a crude way to deliver therapy, especially given how clumsy many virtual helpers often are. But Woebot works smoothly thanks to a clever interface and some pretty impressive natural-language technology. The software states up front that no person will see your answers, but it also offers ways of reaching someone if your situation is serious. I mostly used predefined answers that it offered me, but even when I strayed from the script a little, it didn’t get tripped up. If you try, though, I’m sure it’s possible to flummox it.”
This piqued my interest. I do find the partnership between Facebook and digital therapy more than a little alarming. Is Facebook now going to collect data on users by giving them an artificial therapist? If you are interested in the privacy terms and data collection of Woebot, here’s the link.
I figured I could just report this story and keep it serious and completely professional. But where is the fun in that? So I tested out the Woebot myself. Let’s just say that I think that the Woebot and I suffer from a little bit of a language barrier. Now don’t get me wrong, I hope this technology helps millions of people. But for me, I just want to push its buttons.
Here are the screencaps of my entire first therapy session with my new digital head doctor, Woebot. Enjoy!
P.S. Ignore the typos, it was very late and I was talking to an algorithm.