Going to a therapist in itself already makes a many people uncomfortable, but what if their wise and licensed confidant was actually just a fancy, upgraded sim? Well, we may not have to wait too long to find out — a new computer program is already planning to be your depression-diagnosing assistant shrink.
The program, cleverly named SimSensei and developed by the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, works by using Microsoft Kinect sensors to note subtle changes in body language and facial expression, aiding their human counterparts in recognising signs of depression. And this is where the animated avatar actually trumps human therapists: current depression diagnoses depend on questionnaires, which completely leave out potentially telling non-verbal cues.
And what these cyber shrinks lack in humanity, they certainly try to make up for in bedside manner. As we see in the video, for example, after a brief uncomfortable silence, the patient mentions that he's from LA. What a coincidence! So is our young doctor friend. She "hmms," she's responsive, and most importantly, she cares. But the fact is that SimSensei is an aid — not a replacement, so you will be getting the full psychiatric experience, regardless.
Because as warm and caring as our robodoc sounds in the above video, that voice is unmistakably computer-based. It's hard to imagine that your body language won't be at least somewhat affected by the knowledge that, in reality, your essentially just talking to an empty room.[New Scientist via PopSci]