AI robots could play big role in mental healthcare: Aussie study

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Artificially intelligent (AI) robots that can speak with people autonomously have a big role to play in the future of mental healthcare, according to a team of Aussie experts on Thursday.

The researchers at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and the Queensland University of Technology believe social robots have enormous potential to help people suffering from conditions such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and eating disorders.

Examining 27 global trials where robots were used in psychological health interventions, the team concluded that more needs to be done to promote the medical use of social robots.

“The beauty of social robot interventions is that they could help to side-step potential negative effects of face-to-face therapy with a human health practitioner such as perceived judgement or stigma,” co-author of the study Dr. Nicole Robinson said.

“Robots can help support a self-guided program or health service by interacting with people to help keep them on track with their health goals,” Robinson said.

Currently in the midst of a three-month study due to be completed in July, Robinson has also been working with SoftBank’s Pepper robot to assess the effectiveness of one-to-one healthcare interactions where patients discuss their physical activity, dietary intake, alcohol use and rate of smoking.

“Our research is not about replacing healthcare professionals, but identifying treatment gaps where social robots can effectively assist by engaging patients to discuss sensitive topics and identify problems that may require the attention of a health practitioner,” Robinson said.

“Practitioners may then focus on more personally satisfying and challenging work, including their relationship with the client; enhancing and maintaining motivation; collaborative goal setting and planning; and addressing severe, complex, or co-occurring problems,” Robinson said.