Digital Humans – Counsellors of Tomorrow
“What we achieve inwardly, will change outer reality.” Plutarch – Greek Philosopher (45 AD – 120 AD)
The mind is a rich and complex puzzle. A perpetually intriguing mass of grey matter that sparks and fires in endless activity, challenging even the greatest of neuroscientists. We are only just touching the depths to see what really goes on underneath. One of the questions that remains unanswered is how do we stem the global rise of mental health conditions?
According to the World Health Organisation: ‘20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental health disorders or problems.’ While war and disaster understandably, is having a massive impact on the psychosocial well-being of vast swathes of adults.
The dark stigma associated with seeking out mental health support is a fundamental barrier for many, like a black cloud of discrimination hanging over them. Judgement comes all too easily when someone states they’re ‘seeing a shrink!’ It’s not something you often hear in conversation at the water-cooler. And what about those caught in the midst of conflict or economic crisis, where can they find solace and support when the very fabric of their society is crumbling? The WHO Mental Health fact file (2014) highlights inadequate human resourcing ‘for mental health especially in low and middle income countries.’ While, for the military, some return from action unharmed in the physical sense, yet they return wounded nonetheless. For these soldiers, Post Traumatic Stress is a war they never imagined they’d have to fight.
With mental health conditions affecting so many people across the world, Digital Humans may well be the answer to helping manage the growth of this issue. A Digital Human as a Mental Healthcare Assistant is a financially viable and accessible option for regions struggling with meager human resources. And for those wrestling with revealing their innermost anguish, a Digital Human has the ability to unlock doors of the mind previously closed to humans by the mere fact they aren’t real people! In test studies exploring depression at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies (2014), patients showed a greater willingness to disclose secrets with virtual assistants than with a human present. There was no feeling of judgement or pity, so study subjects felt more at ease and better able to show signs of sadness.
AI technology has continued to advance since then, and with the rise of Digital Humans of the like that Soul Machines create, with their empathetic listening and ability to read facial expressions; mental health support could be raised even higher. A sufferer could build a strong rapport with a Digital Human who looks and reacts like a real person yet they can feel secure in the knowledge their vulnerabilities will not be judged.
AI technology can revolutionise medicine. Digital Humans will not only aid mental health sufferers but act as an important resource on the front-line of delivering invaluable support to health specialists. Medical staff could rely on these virtual healthcare assistants as intermediaries in diagnosis by drawing on invaluable data from their revealing conversations with mental health patients.
And as healthcare systems around the world drown under the weight of maintaining hospital records, Digital Humans can take the strain by managing and analysing patient data far more efficiently than real people. In Mt Sinai Hospital in New York (2015), a research group applied Deep Learning to patients records which then discovered hidden patterns in the data. The project aptly named Deep Patient was surprisingly good at predicting the onset of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.
Digital Humans won’t replace the human-side of mental health treatment BUT they will provide a new and vital component of it. As the world opens its doors to AI technology, the Digital Humans of today could well be the counsellors of tomorrow!