The Potential of AI Psychologists

Another image of the present that has been conjured from science fiction is now spreading across the internet in the form of artificially intelligent psychologists who can ask a number of questions and eventually lead users to discover their own unique psychological states.  Is this a giant leap for mankind?  Or is the promise of cheap and effective psychological help in the future falling short as AI’s struggle to compete in today’s world with human minds.

The artificial intelligence market has already seen its share of unfortunate sidetracks with the rise of AI spammers and computer programs let loose in chat rooms known as ‘bots.’  But as the technological phenomenon gains ground, many are proposing that the programs can be put to better use, namely in the field of psychology.  Will we one day be sitting on our couches while AI robots complete with advanced databases ask us about our day and our childhood while scribbling away automatically in their electronic notepads?

Individuals utilizing these programs at the moment may be both surprised by just how comprehensive the programs can be and disappointed when that programming seems to fall short in several fields.  And unfortunately, AI programs are not currently equipped to answer a wide range of questions.  An example immediately apparent came when I started using one such program claiming to offer comprehensive personality analysis.  When asked to tell me why the program information about my personality type after answering a long list of questions, it was unable to understand what I was asking.  Even fairly basic questions were met with repeating the question and asking how it made me feel.  For this program advertised as a serious counseling tool I’d have to say I was unimpressed.

But the technology I was using was out of date by several years.  And since that time breakthroughs in AI programs have made claims that the past six years have improved on previous programs considerably.  Unfortunately, while using these tools it seems more attention is paid to impressing users with how intelligent the program is than actually working as a tool for psychological benefit.

So as time wears on the machines appear to be getting smarter, and doing so quite fast.  And while the human mind may be infinitely more complex than a machine, the process of psychological analysis is reasonably within the grasp of future technologies.  Potential applications of AI programs would be to offer cheaper and fairly effective counseling to people to assist in diagnosing illnesses, and recording the logs to be looked over by trained psychologists later.  Problem patients could be forwarded to live psychologists while those looking to ‘vent’ may find the electric ear to be therapeutic and beneficial.

Unfortunately there is also something cold and terrifying about communicating with an artificial program as soon as the novelty has worn off.  Perhaps it’s a verbal equivalent to the ‘uncanny valley,’ but when a machine misinterprets verbal cues its reaction can be far more disturbing.  Furthermore, it should be noted that while some programs have utilized the help of psychologists, most currently available are primarily for novelty or research purposes and were designed by programmers examining basic archetype structures.

The final verdict on AI ‘shrinks?’  While the technology is impressive currently, it may be better to wait until the technology improves another five or ten years before looking into real applications.