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Episode 9: Fighting Mental Health Issues: Combining Emotional Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

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In a world overflowing with speed, traffic jams, car horns, huge work overloads, and bad news, people find themselves submerged by negativity and stressful incidents. It’s not surprising, and alarming, that nearly one billion people worldwide suffer from mental health disorders. Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide.

These numbers are getting higher by the rapid emergence of a global pandemic. In fact, the loss of a loved one, the fear of being contaminated or of contaminating those around them, and the increasing scarcity of social relationships are major factors that make people prone to anxiety, stress, overthinking, depression and trauma.

Despite all these discouraging facts, science continues to evolve and find a solution to every problem. By making mental health a topic of concern, AI has gone one step further in its research and innovations to finally create systems helping people deal with stress and depression. These tools are built based on deep learning models, voice and image recognition, and natural language processing, in order to analyze and monitor people’s behaviors and emotions. By recognizing tone and speed of speech, the AI systems can track stress levels and identify the persons who are struggling with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.  This seems a huge step when talking about emotional artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, the power of Machine Learning does not only lie in its ability to diagnose mental health problems but another alternative that focuses on therapy is now being developed.

Therapeutic AI Chatbots offer indeed a sort of therapy directed to the concerned persons. Moodkit, Woebot, and Wysa are all mental health chatbots that offer cognitive insights and behavioral change based on cognitive-behavioral techniques, one of the most heavily researched clinical approaches to treating depression.

Let’s take the example of Woebot. This free chatbot uses natural language processing and sentiment analysis to interpret a user’s input and generate personalized responses. To make things simple, imagine you’re conversing with a friend but not a common one. Actually, this friend asks you direct questions in order to assess your thoughts and mood and hence help you re-evaluate your thought patterns.

In essence, a Woebot user will receive individualized responses that are usually useful tips aiming to modify one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The pictures below show examples of Woebot chatting with users:

Generally speaking, AI therapeutic chatbots were of great help to their users. There has often been positive feedback about the effectiveness of these AI-based applications. Woebot, for example, has shown a significant decrease in anxiety and depression among its users in 2 weeks only.

According to psychologists, these AI tools can help a lot with some mental health issues. However, medical assistance is a major process essential in overcoming mental health problems especially when the individual suffers from severe symptoms (e.g. Major Depressive Disorder) that would likely require a higher level of care.

On that account, it’s not about AI manipulating us or replacing humans as some may think. Still, on the other hand, this much success gained by AI Chatbots leads to some questions we should ask ourselves. Are we really doing well? Are we taking the time to listen to the people around us? Do we try to understand them, to comfort them? Or, are we so consumed by work, money, and social media that we no longer ask about the ones we love to the point that they choose to talk to a machine over opening up to us? The purpose of this questioning is not to enter into a circle of self-blame but to rethink our behavior towards our loved ones.

Let’s listen to each other. Let’s notice the persons around us whom mental health issues are kept untold and let’s accompany them in taking adequate therapy because everyone needs help and support and no one should bear the weight of mental disorders alone.

Resources:
Treating Your Stress with AI Technology
10 octobre 2020: C’est la journée mondiale de la santé mentale
Woebot: A Professional Review

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Perseverance Rover: Humanity’s newest feat

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February 19th, 2021 marks a new historical event in the space exploration journey, as NASA scientists rejoice.

NASA’s 2020 Mars mission successfully landed on Mars. This mission includes the Perseverance Rover along with other experiments.

While descending to touch down on the red planet, we got a close-up picture of the Perseverance rover, the first-ever high-resolution color image to be sent back by the Hazard Cameras that is most likely to become a classic photograph in the history of spaceflight.

A 360° rotation of its mast allowed the Mastcam-Z instrument to capture its first panorama, and we also got the first-ever audio recording from the red planet thanks to a microphone on the rover.

The camera system covered the whole landing process, showing the intense ride and the so-called « seven minutes of terror » descent sequence.

“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.” Said NASA engineer, Swati Mohan, during the live stream of the landing.

This landing is a considerable achievement of engineering that took multiple years to attain and was one of the main difficulties of the mission. As a matter of fact, because Mars’s air is so thin, it was more difficult to slow the spacecraft while descending, and it required a parachute and rockets, among other equipment.

Another challenge that the rover faced was the dangerous terrain it was headed to. Jezero Crater, the new home to the Perseverance Rover, was riskier than previous missions, as it presents deep pits, high cliffs, and big rocks making it harder for the rover to touch down.

However, NASA managed to design new pieces that allowed Perseverance to scan the surface and navigate around any obstacles which was a huge success.

The main goal of this mission is to hunt for the remnants of life and to study the Martian rocks up to 3.8 billion years old.

With this new source of data, the knowledge about our neighboring planet will pave the way to the future, when humans will set foot on the Martian soil.

 

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