Here’s the latest plan to put me out of a job…
She is from L.A. She was created in Los Angeles and “lives out her life” there on a computer screen in a lab at the University of Southern California. She’s not a real woman, but a virtual one, created to talk to people who are struggling emotionally, and to take their measure in a way no human can. Her makers believe that her ability to do this will ultimately revolutionize the way that mental healthcare is practiced in this country. Her name is Ellie.
You can read the whole thing, but the short version is that the Eliza head-shrink program you used to play with on your Commodore 64 has evolved — and the creators are dead serious and the US government is actually crazy enough to buy into it.
Now, obviously this work raises all kinds of issues, and even on a practical level, real obstacles remain. Jeff Cohen, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, studies the relationship between physical movements and emotion and says signals from the face, voice and body are incredibly complicated to interpret.
“Individuals vary a lot in how expressive they are,” Cohen explains. “You know, if I’m someone who is very expressive and I smile frequently, [even] when I’m depressed and smiling less, I may still smile more than you do if you’re a tight-lipped, not very emotive individual.”
This means, Cohen says, that using Ellie in the way that blood tests are used — as proof positive of one diagnosis or another, will be really difficult.
“It strikes me as unlikely that face or voice will provide that information with such certainty,” he says.
He may think that it is unlikely — but that’s the same thing that was said when the absurdity that is now known as Brief Therapy was contrived by big money buying researchers….
Meet your new therapist. 😉