Woebots may be coming for your job
Woebots are artificial intelligence programs which advise and counsel you. The best-known one is Siri. This is Apple's home assistant. You can ask it what the weather is going to be like this afternoon, you can ask who is going to win the big match, you can ask it where to get the cheapest curtains for your living room. You ask a question and it answers.
But almost half the conversations with Siri and Alexa, Amazon's equivalent, are actually conversations about emotions. People tell woebots like these about their stressful day, about how they feel about people at work, about how they really wish someone would phone them. More and more people live on their own, and have no one to talk to. So they talk to the woebots.
People will say, "I feel sad". Or "I am so lonely". And they expect the application to reply. It does reply. In fact all of this type of artificial intelligence conversational software has preprogrammed responses to questions like these. Google Assistant might reply to you "I wish I had arms to give you a hug". Or you might be told "Nobody said life was going to be easy. What do you think you could do?".
The arrival of the woebots
Talking to a machine has gone from seeming weird to being normal in many households. It is only a small step from telling Google Assistant "play me some upbeat music, I'm feeling down" to saying "I'm feeling down, how do I get out of this?".
And the machines are getting better and better at it. Artificial intelligence used to be about how to beat a chess grandmaster. The software learned from every game. It learned from its mistakes. Gradually, the software increased its playing skills until today chess programs are better than any human being.
Learning to play chess is different from learning how to counsel someone deep in grief. But the same basic principles apply. Do something, measure how well you did, change your next attempt, and see if it is better or worse.
This is not going to work terribly well between a machine and one person. But when the machine is learning from hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously it becomes a completely different situation.
Pretty much the same questions are being asked by hundreds of people at any one moment. The software understands multiple languages and is available in every country. Therefore the opportunities for learning are greatly increased. The software offers a response, and then analyses the reply. It does this over and over tirelessly, 24 hours a day. And it learns.
Your woebot counselor is here now
It is predicted that it will not be long before everyone has access to a conversational robot. Past experiments have shown that people will speak more freely to a machine than they will to a human being. The machine doesn't judge you. The machine doesn't make you feel embarrassed. It has endless patience. It's always there for you. And it costs nothing.
That last point, that it is free and always there, is what should give concern to many in the caring professions. People go to counsellors very often just to have someone to listen to them. One of the primary benefits of counselling is just to allow people to unload how they feel.
If talking to a machine makes you feel good, then you will do more of it. The machines are getting better at giving helpful advice and encouragement. Why would someone go to a counsellor, if you can talk to a friendly understanding voice on your cell phone day or night?
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How could you convert this software into an asset in your practice?