Digitization Artificial intelligence sees, hears, heals but also poses a threat
Artificial intelligence (AI) can see, hear and direct people using recommender systems (RS). This has a significant influence on our behaviour, reinventing e-commerce, travel, finance and sport. Cognitive therapy apps are on the rise promising mental health relief (e.g. anti-depression).
Artificial intelligence are two words on everyone’s lips. But few can imagine just how AI will change our lives over the coming years. Chatbots, voice assistants and recommender systems can see, hear and provide people with relief using AI eyes, ears and sensors. As online giants, such as Alipay, Amazon and Google, have been proving the disruptive potential of these new technologies for some time, more and more people are now willing to trust AI applications which are intended to improve their mental health or simply promise them an easier or happier life.
22-year-old Brian Chandler is suffering another anxiety attack. We’re writing in 2021. Hospitals and psychiatrists are overwhelmed: COVID-19 has filled intensive care units and psychiatrists’ capacity is being pushed to the limit by a rate of people suffering depression that has recently doubled. In short, you can’t get an appointment. That’s understandable when one in five people have experienced some form of depression during the pandemic (Office for National Statistics 2021). As Brian can’t find a human to lend him an ear, he sees his last and only chance in an app (The Telegraph 2021). When the next anxiety attack hits, Brian opens the ‘bot therapy’ app called Woebot and hopes it’ll listen to his concerns.
Woebot’s message to users: “Welcome to the future of mental health”
People with similar problems to Brian have confirmed the effectiveness of the cognitive behavioural therapy app and talk of leading a happier life with less stress. Even though Brian knows his conversation with Woebot will be between him and AI algorithms, he tries it out straight away. And lo and behold, he was amazed at the result: “[I] was blown away at how much better I felt immediately after” (The Telegraph 2021). Not only did Woebot prove helpful, it’s also there to lend an AI ear at every hour of the day, and is fairly affordable too.
AI therapy is on the up
Users type (or speak) with a chatbot and share their thoughts or emotions. The chatbot responds straight away with a suggestion, or asks further questions and listens to the user’s answers. The chatbot’s answers are based on AI technology which determines within a few seconds what the most effective or helpful answer to the user’s question could be. Normally, the more the person uses the app, the better its answers become. Data science research at the Institute of Communication and Marketing at Lucerne School of Business is looking into the potential and dangers of this kind of technology. AI uses “crowd intelligence,” learns from it and uses it to improve the machine’s answers almost by itself every time it’s used.
Trust in the face of an existential threat?
As with fundraising for new blockchain and AI technologies (Gächter 2021), trust is also key to issues relating to health and sustainability. Trust is not usually simply placed in new technologies, but has to be earned. This requires honest and authentic communication and ethical standards that have to be kept to. Research can help with this: according to Woebot, the app is based strictly on results from research and the company works with leading research institutions (and human therapists).
Among the data categorized as particularly sensitive is biometric and genetic data that can be used to clearly identify people. That is significant for those AI applications that use technologies such as facial recognition. And in Switzerland, the Federal Council has issued its “Guidelines on Artificial Intelligence for the Confederation” (SERI 2020). However, cases of data misuse are frequent. The remarkable Professor Stephen Hawking warned years ago that thinking machines posed a threat to our existence and could spell the end of the human race. CEO of Tesla and Space X Elon Musk has also voiced his fears about AI (BBC 2014).
“Big data psychology” can see, hear and read our thoughts ever more accurately.
Sensors in our smartphones, smart watches and cars etc. can perceive even the tiniest changes in our voices or facial expressions and usually react with suggestions on how to satisfy our needs or solve our problems. According to Woebot, one in five people worldwide are living with disability caused by mental illness and substance abuse. In this context, the appetite for AI is greater than ever before. The question we must ask ourselves is how far do we dare venture into this unknown territory?
Due to the current situation, Connecta Bern will again be held as a digital event in 2021. Connecta is renowned for shining a light on the diverse nature of digitization and this year will be no different with content presented across the three formats of Connecta Blog, Connecta TV and Connecta Talk. Find out more here: www.swisspost.ch/connecta.
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