Chatbots are all the rage these days but the world’s first AI “therapist” ELIZA actually debuted way back in the early 90’s. It was a primitive thing that often asked open ended questions and gave open ended answers as well as repeating what you said back to you in order to convey the illusion of intelligence when it was anything but. It was amusing for a few hours at most but eventually most figured out what was behind the curtain and how the emperor (therapist) wore no clothes. These same techniques are being resurrected in today’s chatbots but I digress..
These days things have gotten a little more advanced, we have VR therapists in addition to the chatbot variety. University of Barcelona researchers conducted an experiment using virtual reality headsets. Participants entered a room where they were supposed to describe a personal problem. Afterwards, they switched bodies with the avatar that was facing them and gave themselves advice. Some just incorporated a duplicate of themselves. Others were sent into the body of Sigmund Freud. The participants incorporating the Viennese psychotherapist gave themselves much more effective counseling. The illusion of being in the body of Freud, made them already feel that they had more expertise to hand out advice.
There are now also AI life coaches, or simply referred to as virtual coaches. A virtual coach is a social actor that develops a social relationship with the user and thereby tries to change that person’s behavior or attitude. Health related applications are a very promising domain for virtual coaches, because attitude and behavior change are often important objectives in medical treatment.
By using virtual coaches everybody can receive coaching without the need to increase the number of human coaches. Developing a good virtual coach is complex, time consuming and therefore expensive. However, after this initial investment it is relatively inexpensive to deploy this coach amongst many people for many hours. This in contrast to human coaches, whose availability is limited and charge a substantial hourly rate. Because of this, virtual coaches are certainly more cost-effective than human coaches when used on a large scale. Besides increasing availability and reducing costs, flexibility is also an advantage of replacing human coaches by virtual ones. Because access to a virtual coach is not limited by a strict consultation schedule, virtual coaches can be contacted any time of the day for any period of time.
Some of this was extracted from a general article about consultative AI/chatbots in general which can be read in full here