Will Future Intelligent Assistants Be Able to Detect Depression?

CNN recently ran a story about research on a smartphone app that can predict depression. The Purple Robot app was created by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois. The app leverages data about a user’s location, movement, phone usage, and other activities.

Apps that detect depressionThe goal of Purple Robot is to analyze this smartphone usage data to objectively predict how likely the user is to have depression. Movement turns out to be a good indicator of a person’s mental wellness. GPS data can show how much a person has moved around between their regular locations. The more stationary a person is, the more likely they are to be depressed.

The Purple Robot app can also analyze the way a person uses his or her phone.The amount of time someone spends playing games or texting, but not talking on the phone, turns out to be another indicator that the person may be suffering from depression.

The accuracy of Purple Robot is still being determined and there’s certainly room for improvement. But the idea that a fairly simple smartphone app can objectively gauge a user’s risk for depression has lots of implications.

Will our intelligent assistants of the future have mental wellness trackers built-in, alongside daily fitness trackers? Instead of just prompting the user to stand or take more steps, could the intelligent assistant encourage the user to talk to a friend? Even an average assistant should know the user’s taste in music, sports teams, and perhaps hobbies. If the assistant notes the user has been spending a lot of time at home alone, could it start pushing recommendation cards of upcoming events that it predicts the user will be interested in? Could it be proactive and invite friends to join the fun?

Health trackers and workout apps are popular. Mindfulness and meditation apps are a growing trend. It seems only a matter of time before apps that track mental fitness enter the mainstream and eventually become integrated with our personal assistants.

2 thoughts on “Will Future Intelligent Assistants Be Able to Detect Depression?

  1. There’s probably too much stigma surrounding mental illness for there to be a precise parallel to fitness/mindfulness apps, but this is an interesting idea.

    • Sophia, that’s a good point. A depression “warning gauge” probably can’t be equated with a fitness or mindfulness tracker due to the stigma. It’ll be interesting to see if at some point a user could opt in to such a gauge and accept prompts from the intelligent assistant to change her/his behavior if the gauge goes into the warning zone.

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