“People are very open to feeling connected to things that aren’t people,” says Gale Lucas, a psychologist at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and first author of a new, Darpa-funded study that finds soldiers are more likely to divulge symptoms of PTSD to a virtual interviewer—an artificially intelligent avatar, rendered in 3-D on a television screen—than in existing post-deployment health surveys. The findings, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI, suggest that virtual interviewers could prove to be even better than human therapists at helping soldiers open up about their mental health.
But Ellie [the virtual interviewer] is no brainless bot….Ellie uses machine vision to interpret test subjects’ verbal and facial cues and respond supportively. For example, Ellie not only knows how to perform sympathetic gestures, like nodding, smiling, or quietly uttering “mhm” when listening to a sensitive story—she knows when to perform them.
…In the end, test subjects reported significantly more PTSD symptoms in their interviews with Ellie than they did on their official PDHA surveys. But the service members also divulged more to Ellie than they did on an anonymized version of the PDHA. That suggests a system like Ellie could provide a real service to members of the military. “Getting people to admit they have symptoms is an important step in helping them realize they’re at risk—and getting them treatment,” Lucas says.”
This, says Lucas, is Ellie’s most promising feature. “Again and again, I’m seeing the power of the virtual agents to tease out information that traditional methods just don’t, and that power seems to stem from the fact that it’s just a computer,” she says. That’s the thing about AI therapists like Ellie: They can help you, but they can’t judge you” (emphasis added)
The future of health care? Or a glimpse into a dystopian, robot-overlord future?
*The Voigt-Kampff Machine is a fictional creation from the 1982 movie Blade Runner (based on the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) . It could supposedly tell the difference between humans and genetically manufactured ‘replicants’. You can take the test here