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News

The Role of AI in Mental Health

Aiforgood Asia
13.5.2021

A Harvard trained psychiatrist says that ongoing advances in Machine Learning (ML) coupled with Natural Language Processing (NLP) or even Computer Vision would make it easy to potentially predict future impairments in a subject’s mental capacities, based on speech or facial patterns.

This article was first published at AiFORGOOD Asia


Here at Aiforgood Asia we support ethical use cases for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a variety of industries and fields. Today we are addressing the role of this emerging technology in mental health. This is an area of growing concern, increasingly recognized by health authorities around the globe as being exacerbated by the ongoing strain put on people due to the Covid-19 restrictions. The full extent of the crisis will be studied for years to come, but even before the statistics are compiled, we are seeing some innovative deployments of different technologies aimed at supporting well being and improving mental health in a variety of scenarios, at home and in the office. We have discussed this important issue with a couple of industry experts to find out about the effectiveness of technologies in mental health and how companies are dealing with the ethical issues that may arise.


We spoke with  Shiuan Liu, A Harvard trained psychiatrist and founder of  SoundShine Ltd., a company that promotes positive psychology through writing, storytelling, music and workshops to get his thoughts on the use of AI in psychiatry.   Liu suggests that AI in healthcare, and specifically in mental health, has - as elsewhere - the potential to do good just as it does to do bad. For example, Liu says that ongoing advances in Machine Learning (ML) coupled with Natural Language Processing (NLP) or even Computer Vision would make it easy to potentially predict future impairments in a subject’s mental capacities, based on speech or facial patterns. The obvious good use case would be to proactively monitor and help prevent, or mitigate the onset of negative mental health conditions, but there is the dark twin as well, the use case where the same technology could screen out job applicants or even possible spouses based on possible negative future outcomes.


Over time, AI will probably be better suited for prevention rather than treatment, where it can be an important aid to image based diagnosis. Specifically in the case of mental health or wellness, Liu  suggests that AI-based tools to prevent repeating negative behavioral patterns could have a significant impact. For example, having a “coach”, your own "Tony Robbins in your ear", 24/7, based on converging technologies already available for the home such as IoT, 5G, and AI pattern detection could help improve well being levels by preventing negative attitudes towards the self or others. With so many of the earth’s inhabitants stuck at home under the Covid-19 restrictions, it certainly could improve access and encouragement for people suffering from mild mental issues such as anxiety and depression. This type of “coach” could detect changes in  speech or activity patterns that turn negative based on a set goal such as “let me have a positive attitude towards my kids/spouse/self”, or “eliminate negative self talk/swearing”, for example. Then Liu suggests that the system could gently nudge the user towards reducing the negative tendencies and move toward positive outcomes.


Such a tool is not yet readily available, but most of the pieces already are from a technology point of view. Then the question would be the ethical implementation of such a system. Questions of equal access, monetization models, and use of personal data are just a few of the ethical concerns that can be foreseen. For such a tool to be effective of course the user would have to open much of the signaling coming from his or her inner life to the AI: moods, speech patterns reflecting thoughts, all of these would be captured, tracked and analyzed. There would be legitimate trust concerns around for-profit companies having access to this very personal data. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to imagine the dangers of this type of information and behavioral nudging power being in the wrong hands.


Still the possibility of this technology deployment is exciting and if implemented ethically, could have the potential to make a positive impact on mental health and well being. Ultimately, for AI in such a context to work, it has to be trusted, non intrusive, which is to make recommendations and not prescribe, and of course it should be widely available to all those who need and want help.

Read the full story and more related stories on AiFORGOOD Asia

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