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Andrew Ng Has a Chatbot That Can Help With Depression


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Representation of the Woebot chatbot.

A chatbot under development at Stanford University is designed to offer interactive cognitive behavior therapy to people suffering from depression.

Credit: Stanford University

Stanford University professor Andrew Ng is supporting the development of a Facebook chatbot called Woebot, which is designed to offer interactive cognitive behavior therapy to people suffering from depression.

Woebot inventor Alison Darcy says it is possible to automate such therapy since it follows a series of steps for detecting and addressing unhelpful ways of thinking, while natural-language processing technologies have boosted the utility of chatbots within limited domains.

The system provides a guided conversational interface, and Woebot checks in with patients daily, directing them through therapeutic steps.

Tests of Woebot prototypes found the chatbot reduced the symptoms of depression in volunteers over two weeks.

"If we can take a little bit of the insight and empathy [of a real therapist] and deliver that, at scale, in a chatbot, we could help millions of people," Ng says.

He expects Woebot to become a more effective tool once better methods for parsing the meaning of language are developed.

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