Video technology has combined with some smart computer programming to create a “cybershrink” capable of identifying potential psychological problems at an early stage.
Every once in a while, a new technology comes along that pushes the boundaries of our imagination just a little further afield.
The technology in question here consists of an advanced computer program hiding beneath a digital skin – for now, just an LCD monitor and audio speakers – paired with video and audio inputs. These inputs are its eyes and ears, and monitor a subject’s voice and movements in an effort to detect any latent signs of psychological trauma.
This strange piece of medical technology is affectionately known as Ellie, as NPR reports. The researchers behind her development initially started work under the assumption that people would speak much more openly about themselves when confronted with an avatar rather than an actual human being.
We’re all familiar with the notion that a picture says a thousand words — and the same holds true when it comes to reading a person’s mannerisms. People often betray their true emotions with unconscious shifts in body language, and Ellie aims to read these subtle hints in order to gain insight into someone’s true state of mind or being.
Ellie monitors a wide range of body language indicators, as well as spoken words and variations in the pitch and tone of someone’s voice. In the doctor’s office, facial expressions and voices are monitored closely using video cameras and microphones. The programme then processes all of the inputs and analyses patients’ responses and reactions to various questions.
Ellie is a product of the SimSensei project in progress at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, lead by Jonathan Gratch. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) helps fund the project, and it’s invested in finding methods to help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers and veterans as early as possible.
More often than not, however, getting soldiers to admit to a psychological problem is like getting blood from a stone — those who have served in the military are often in a state of denial, avoiding psychological treatment at their and others’ expense. That’s where Ellie comes in.
Why a Robot Psychiatrist?
Following rigorous experimentation, the researchers’ suspicions proved accurate – it seems that people really do feel more comfortable opening up to an avatar than to a human psychiatrist.
Forbes claims that the reason why patients proved more willing to open up under this experimental method of robot psychiatry is because they didn’t feel as if they were being judged – which just so happens to be technically true. This is good news for the project’s main bankroller, DARPA, as it paves the way to more effectively and systematically revealing the early symptoms of PTSD.
Technological methods like those that led to the creation of Ellie could, without a doubt, be used to address a whole scope of other issues across a wide variety of industries, including to interview job applicants.
One-on-one job interviews can easily raise a candidate’s level of stress, and they subsequently may struggle to perform to the best of their abilities under the strain of direct interaction. Applicants may even hide relevant details of their employment history or personal background out of nerves or pressure-induced forgetfulness.
Technology is always evolving, and sometimes, all it takes is some out-of-the-box thinking to harness its tremendous potential and make our lives easier and more efficient.