Virtual therapists – how psychology draws on the achievements of artificial intelligence
At the moment, we are witnessing enormous technological progress that has reached medicine and psychology. So the question arises: what role will robots and artificial intelligence play in the world of therapy? Will virtual therapists and psychiatrists replace human beings?
WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?
- There are many different definitions of artificial intelligence in literature, but we can simply say that this is a computer science department whose object is to create systems that think and behave like people. Its origins date back to the 1950s. These were relatively simple models because of their low computational power.
- At present, this field is constantly evolving and expanding with new, more and more sophisticated applications and solutions. Nowadays, the possibilities of artificial intelligence are often used in medical diagnostics, as well as to create robots, which sometimes with greater precision than human beings are able to perform certain procedures. The field, which is well established in business or medicine, has also not missed psychology.
ARTIFICIAL NEURAL NETWORKS
We are increasingly observing how neuroscience, as part of interdisciplinarity, permeates with chemistry, mathematics, computer science, linguistics, medicine, psychology and philosophy. An excellent example of this interaction are artificial neural networks (ANN) used by AI scientists who are trying to model the human brain in a simplified way. It can be said that these artificial neural networks are trying to imitate the human brain in a computer, and their elements are modelled on the functioning of biological neurons.
In some aspects, the algorithms used in neural networks far outweigh the human capabilities (e.g. in tasks regarding image classification), and their use can be unlimited. We will focus on how the potential of artificial intelligence decided to use the therapists and psychiatrists. So where do the paths of psychology and artificial intelligence intersect?
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE LEADS THE CONVERSATION!
One of the most interesting areas in which psychology uses artificial intelligence are chatbots – computer programs whose task is to conduct conversations using natural language or text interface. Chatbots are often used on websites as interactive, virtual therapist characters replacing living consultants, answering questions about the services and activities of a given company. Their history dates back to the 1960s. It was then that Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed Eliza, also known as “The Doctor”.
This is the first program that simulates a therapeutic conversation between a human being and a machine. Chatbot, although simple in its design, was able to conduct an uncomplicated dialogue with the patient. The illusion of a real conversation could be obtained by rearranging phrases and keywords, which were then used in Eliza’s statements. During the conversation, universal phrases often appear, such as: “I understand” or “tell me more about X”, which allowed to maintain the illusion of conversation with the virtual therapist and thus deceive the subjects for a long time.
Despite the fact that Eliza’s interlocutors were informed that they were talking to the machine, and her statements were often meaningless, many people took these “virtual therapy sessions” seriously. One anecdote concerns the secretary of Weinzenbaum himself. One day a woman asked him to leave the room so that she could talk to Eliza.