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.
The chatbot also represents the risky yet essential innovation happening at the intersection of mental health care and technology.
There's no research on whether confiding your fears or frustrations in a chatbot is as effective as seeking professional help from a human trained to treat mental health issues.
There's no guidance that can help doctors or patients decide when it's best to see a chatbot instead of a therapist. Even new text, video, and voice-based therapy services like Talkspace rely on humans.
Basically, using therapy-lite chatbots is a massive experiment in mental health.
Woebot is one of the first chatbots of its kind. It debuted publicly this week as a subscription service with a $39 monthly fee.
X2AI, which is not widely available yet, uses artificial intelligence to provide mental health support. Joy is a free AI chatbot that tracks how your emotions and gives related tips on feeling better. Both Woebot and Joy operate on Facebook Messenger.
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