If you have been to a hospital or a clinic you would know the sequence of events. You walk into your appointment, the clerk will register you, then the nurse will take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure and when it's your turn she will announce ‘the doctor will see you now.’
Imagine that you enter the clinic and your doctor is a robot. This is not a part of a science fiction movie but soon will be a reality that expands to reach different fields in healthcare.
The use of Artificial Intelligence in the medical field was introduced years ago when a micro-surgical arm performed a surgical operation then gradually took over while the human professionals monitor the situation remotely and only intervene when necessary.
A study from China showed that the robotic surgeon is 20 per cent superior to the human doctor, as the robot has stable hands without vibrations which is essential in operations requiring accuracy and stability.
Robots have also been used in other health fields such as the pharmacist robot who can dispense 12 prescriptions in less than one minute without making a single mistake. One would argue that helping people with emotional distress can only be done by humans. After all, how can a machine understand feelings and express empathy?
You would be surprised that there are smartphone applications that provide psychological counselling via text chat. Such programmes are generally designed around the idea of cognitive behavioural therapy and provides practical tips for solving problems and overcoming common psychological problems such as anger, sadness, anxiety and negative thoughts.
There are also other applications that monitor the patient's phone and record his ‘Internet behaviour’ by recognising that he has not left his home for several days. For example, or has not chatted with anyone via social media or made a phone call, which is what happens when a person is experiencing major depression. Out of curiosity, I downloaded one of these applications and started chatting.
After registering the application asked if I preferred random chats or choose a specific time to communicate. The chat usually started with the application greeting me then asking ‘Where you now and what are you doing?.’ Then it asks me to choose a quick emoji that describes my feeling at that particular moment. If I said I was happy he suggests that I write three reasons for my happiness in the gratitude note. If I was feeling sad he asked about three symptoms of this sadness so that he can assess if I needed to speak to a human psychologist.
If my symptoms are mild then he would give me a few tips to improve my mood. Sometimes he would share a ‘personal experience’ to make the discussion more interesting, like his avoidance of learning new things for fear of failure.
The programme reminds you from the beginning that it is ‘a tool for psychological counseling and self-development and is not a substitute for a psychiatrist or psychologist.’
I wanted to know how other people would react to the application so I asked my friends on social media to download it and try it and send me their feedback. One person wrote “The app can empathise to an impressive degree, it is also credible and does not deal with cases that exceed its capabilities. While another friend said, ‘I liked the narrative style and sense of humour, I do not get bored of using it.’ Another said, ‘It is impossible for the application to replace the human, how can a robot understand emotions? So dear reader, would you consult a robot if you are in distress?.’