Intelligent Assistants as Intervention Against Depression

Less than two weeks ago the co-pilot of the Germanwings Airbus intentionally steered the commercial airliner into a mountain, killing all on board. Tha plane’s automated flight control systems operated flawlessly. A mentally unstable human being, however, was able to easily override these systems and make the plane do something it was never intended to do.

DepressionIn the future, will aeronautical autopilot systems be intelligent enough to know when not to give control to a human pilot? Our technology isn’t at a point where it can protect us from every bad or purposely evil human decision. But what if intelligent assistants could at least help people suffering from depression to get through their day more easily? This question is apparently being explored by researchers at Northwestern University.

A clinical trial began last month to test the efficacy of smartphones to help people with depression and anxiety. The program is referred to as IntelliCare and leverages smartphones to target personalized treatment material to participants. The participants receive messaging and also provide input back into the app. The apps help the patients by teaching them skills to assist with managing their mood. According to the documentation describing the clinical trial, the IntelliCare system also applies machine learning techniques to develop algorithms that will better tailor the app to the individual participant, based on collected data.

Principal Investigator David C Mohr of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern has done previous studies on the effects of specially-designed mobile apps for those suffering from psychological disorders. One such study sought to measure the results of mobile app intervention on patients with schizophrenia.

The study found that 90% of patients rated the app as beneficial and that after just one month of using the app, significant reductions in psychotic symptoms were noted.

Can tools such as these be integrated into healthcare intelligent assistants of the future? Will we be able to rely on our smartphones, or other connected devices, to help us tame our inner demons and learn techniques to manage our moods? The technology definitely seems worth exploring.


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