In our last class discussion, we focused on the ethical implications of technology. This is one of the most important topics as both startups and corporations are racing to discover the next disruptive innovation. However, the side effects of this rapid innovation on our health are not discussed nearly enough.
I wanted to focus this blog on how technology is both the problem and solution to many health problems we face today. In some ways, the integration of technology into our every action has altered our lifestyles and social interactions to create some negative habits. There is no longer a separation between work and home life with the ability to work remotely and on the weekends. Additionally workplaces now move at much faster and demanding paces. The phenomenon of FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, arose from the proliferation of social media into our every action. One of the articles we read for discussion wondered if Google could be the source of our short attention span. As Professor Kane mentioned in class, simply having your smartphone in the same room as you will serve as a distraction.However, many innovators are attempting to solve the problems that stem from our attachment to technology, by breaking into the emotional health industry. There is currently a breadth of new technology that caters to the mental and emotional needs of its user. From smartphone apps providing wellness tips to an AI robot that caters to your emotional needs, technology is making strides to cater to the mental and emotional needs of people, but is this any better?
Apps such as Headspace teaches users how to meditate and live mindfully. With themed sessions to help users manage stress, sleep, anxiety, or to simply focus, Headspace has gained mass attraction. The smartphone accessibility and bite-sized sessions create a convenient way for users to meditate and recenter themselves in the midst of a busy day.
AI Therapist: Woebot
Stanford University clinical research psychologist Alison Darcy has developed health technology for 15 years, and her most recent technology debuted in 2017: Woebot. Woebot is a smartphone app that uses artificial technology to make mental health tools “radically accessible to everyone.” More than half of the world’s population unable to access basic healthcare, and mental health care is immensely underserved. With this in mind, the researchers at Woebot utilized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to offer therapy-level care without the need for a therapist.
Woebot coaches users through their emotions by using a series of text messages through Facebook Messenger. The platform uses AI technology to reply to user’s text messages with advice, prompts, and even quizzes to teach the user more about mental health patterns and healthier ways of thinking. Woebot learns through big data statistics gathered from how people answer the messages, and the programmers apply clinical methods of creating and testing hypotheses to improve its responses and advice.
IBM Coffee Drone
Recently, IBM patented technology that can detect when people are tired and bring them coffee. The technology features a drone that will be able to determine the cognitive state of an office worker. The patent describes that the drone could be equipped with technology to “detect blood pressure, pupil dilation, and facial expressions,” which will decide whether workers are tired. When someone is deemed to be drowsy, the drone will deliver a cup of coffee to reinvigorate them.
This is such an interesting crossover between technology and health, as this drone could be equipped to sense other human needs for food, water, or office supplies. Such applications would eliminate the need for an office worker to get up from their desk throughout the day. Whether a coffee delivery drone will increase productivity, I’m not sure, but this patent certainly opens the door to a new type of healthcare innovation in which AI can predict needs based on facial expressions. This leads into the next technology I want to discuss: Pepper.
The Emotional Robot
Pepper is the world’s first humanoid robot that reads human emotions. Created by SoftBank Robotics, over 7,000 populate Japanese homes. Pepper was not intended for domestic use or performing tasks. The purpose of Pepper is to make people happy, and enhance people’s lives by having chats, facilitating relationships, playing with children, and greeting people at the door. Several offices in the UK use Pepper as a receptionist, as it is able to perform digital tasks such as sending reminders, as well as customer relationship duties including identifying visitors with facial recognition. It has also been used in a nursing home in Tokyo to be a tireless conversation partner and emotional supporter for patients with dementia.
Pepper is able to “feel” and sense emotions based on information it processes from its cameras, touch sensors, the tone of your voice, facial expressions, and more. This independent processing of data is similar to how humans process emotions with the five senses.
Using technology to support emotional and mental health can be an impactful step in the world of healthcare. From easy-to-use AI therapists, to in-house emotional assistants for nursing home patients, technology could easily disrupt the nature of the healthcare industry. People already go to Google first to diagnose their symptoms, and these tools could easily become the next step in treatment, without the need for a doctor or prescription.
Furthermore, the nature of employee health could totally change. With assistants such as the IMB coffee drone and Pepper, employee happiness could now be monitored by technology and workers can be delivered anything from a cup of coffee to a quick uplifting chat to restore their spirits. This tech could certainly be applied to predict human behavior and cater to their needs without being prompted.
There are both pros and cons to this topics. Some pros include the scalability and convenience that will allow more people access to emotional and mental amenities. However, I believe that reliance on technology to balance our emotions should be minimal. The effectiveness of this technology still does not compare with traditional methods, and privacy and regulations must be strict in order to abide by standard medical ethics.