January 8, 2024
The machine-human divide has long been defined by the ability, or lack thereof, to feel. To be human is to have empathy and compassion – emotions which robots are simply incapable of expressing. Well, perhaps that has changed. Microsoft has now patented an AI-powered therapy app, and, in doing so, may have altered everything we thought we knew about computers.
As reported by Futurism, the AI therapist is designed to provide users with emotional support, analyze their feelings and carefully store user conversations, which can then form a digital “memory” of the patient, their lives and their emotional triggers. The patent claims “a method and apparatus for providing emotional care in a session between a user and conversational agent”. The application is marketed as less of an emergency service, and more of a “general space for a user to be able to talk about life”.
The patent indicates that, as more user information is gathered, the AI can start to read emotional cues, ask appropriate questions and even make suggestions for how the user should manage their concerns.
Microsoft suggests that the technology may be able to perform even deeper psychoanalysis. The user would have the option to take an “explicit psychological test”, to be assessed by a “scoring algorithm predefined by psychologists or experts in psychological domains”.
Given rapid advancements in AI technology, it would be naïve to say that computers will never be able to engage in emotional nuance. That said, as suggested by others, the potential availability of this technology does beg certain questions, including whether we trust machines to penetrate psyches, to play a crucial role in supporting mental and emotional well-being, or to provide a safe and confidential space for individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Authors: Emily Groper and Kasia Donovan