Artificial intelligence: A digital companion for mental health care

Dear editor,
The last decade has seen Artificial Intelligence taking centre stage in the technological world, and the journeys of humanity and technology are now deeply intertwined. Al is integrated into our lives in numerous ways ranging from giving nudges to complete that email to having to prove that you are human by picking out objects in a blurry image while logging in to your email inbox from an unfamiliar location. AI makes it pertinent for us to understand its potential and limitations in meeting human psychological needs. Can Al play a role in mental health care?
In psychology, interventions need to be personalised. Al can analyse big data sets and analyse the needs to personalise certain interventions,” says who holds. two master’s degrees in psychology and works in London for an Al healthcare startup.
Microsoft’s AI CEO and one of the primary architects of many of the AI models we use today, in his TED talk describes Al as a kind of a new “digital species” that we will come to see about as a “digital companion” in our life journey. He believes this is the most accurate and fundamentally honest way of describing what is about to emerge with AL.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal has found that Al-generated messages made recipients feel more “heard” than messages generated by untrained humans, and that Al was better at detecting emotions. The research conducted by Yidan Yin, Nan Jia, and Cheryl J. Wakslak, from the USC Marshall School of Business addressed a pivotal question: “Can AI, which lacks human consciousness and emotional experience, succeed in making people feel heard and understood?” The responses show that leveraging Al’s capabilities holds the potential for designing inexpensive scalable solutions for social support. “Healthcare is best when it is personalised,” says Abhishek Mohanty, founder and CEO of Care Flick, an Al-powered care and team management platform for senior care. “AI can give data points for elderly care, but each case is different. For example, we have developed a tool which can be used by the caregiver to document the mood and vitals of the elderly. The tool helps the caregiver anticipate the elderly per- son’s behaviour on a given day and prepare accordingly for his or her role as a caregiver.” Post-pandemic, the demand for remote mental health care has surged globally.
One of the hurdles in mental health care is the stigma associated with reaching out to a counsellor or coach for emotional support. Al seems to have a definite advantage in lowering this entry barrier. People seem to be more comfortable accessing mental health care from their own homes. They prefer to engage with a chat bot over speaking to a person. Al helps make mental health care more accessible in this respect. It is found that people could be themselves without the fear of being judged when speaking with an AI bot.
In a way, AI is the whole of everything us humans have created, distilled into something that we can all interact with and benefit from. It’s a reflection of humanity across time. It captures both the biases and gifts of humanity. In that respect, if we are to consciously give birth to this new “digital species”, it is critical we pay attention to the kind of minds that we are nurturing within us. The more we invest in healing from our own trans generational traumas and deep- seated biases that lead to violence through “bothering”, the more we can hope to create a technology that will emulate these values in its application. Through your column, I would say that we need to move away from a homocentric view of the world where human needs are given primacy to rediscover and hold a view of the world that values the wholeness and interconnectedness of life all around. Hope- fully, this will prevent future AI technologies from ending up as tools to satiate human greed at the cost of even more depletion of the natural world.
Vijay Garg

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