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With Woebot, Darcy aims to address the epidemic of mental health conditions in America that are present alongside a shortage of adequate resources to treat them.Not only are many people unable to access treatment due to things out of their control like cost or clinician shortages, but stigma and judgment hold many people back from pursuing mental health support, Darcy said.
San Francisco-based Woebot Labs created the tool –originally intended for college students but later expanded to all adults – based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.
“The interactions with Woebot itself look like therapy in that it is conversational, and there is a value to people to talk about their problems – just getting them out of their head,” said Darcy, who refers to Woebot as “he.” “He helps people think, and they can start to learn more about how they function in the world with these emotions and thoughts.” While the very nature of one-on-one communication means each conversation will go a little differently, one thing Woebot does consistently is drive home the point that it is a robot.
That element sets it apart from other text-based mental health apps – the closest comparison is from New York-based startup Koko, which uses artificial intelligence for crowd-sourced cognitive therapy and last summer launched a chatbot called Koko Bot, but even that relies on some human training.
"When Tay started training on patterns that were input by trolls online, it started using those patterns," said Rosenberg.
"This is really no different than a parrot in a seedy bar picking up bad words and repeating them back without knowing what they really mean."Sarah Austin, CEO and Founder Broad Listening, a company that's created an "Artificial Emotional Intelligence Engine," (AEI), thinks that Microsoft could have done a better job by using better tools.