Giving Compass' Take:
- This article was originally posted in Mashable on June 8, 2017.
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When you launch Woebot in Facebook Messenger, the chatbot's cerulean blue eyes peer out from the screen. He looks concerned, a little quizzical. He invites you to chat. Within a few messages he explains his purpose: "So here's how I work, I'm going to ask you about your mood and as I get to know you, I'll teach you some good stuff."
If that sounds like a weird conversation to have with a robot, he wants you to know the first step toward "being a life ninja" is paying attention to your moods. Honestly, he adds, humans aren't great at remembering things: "I have a perfect memory so each week I'll give you insight on how your mood changes."
Woebot, one of the first chatbots of its kind, is powered by artificial intelligence not to tackle your deepest problems, but to improve your mood, and even alleviate symptoms of depression.
Darcy acknowledges Woebot's limitations. He's only for those 18 and over. If your mood hasn't improved after six weeks of exchanges, he'll prompt you to talk about getting a "higher level of care." Upon seeing signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior, Woebot will provide information for crisis phone, text, and app resources.
The best way to describe Woebot, Darcy says, is probably as "gateway therapy."
"I have to believe that applications like this can address a lot of people’s needs."
This caution is for the best. Adam Haim, chief of the treatment and preventive intervention research branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, says that while the results from the Woebot study are interesting, the field needs much more research to better understand whether chatbots are effective at improving someone's mental health.
Darcy hopes that Woebot helps unleash more collaboration between tech and mental health experts to develop better interventions for people who struggle with experiences like depression and anxiety.