Will Artificial Intelligence Help or Hinder Empathy Online?

March 10, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Mental health is the latest trending frontier in the MedTech app development space. If you have a browsing history of seeking out mental health information through Google, you might have even seen ads for such services in the sidebar while you scroll through Facebook. From one-on-one counseling services to artificially intelligent “empathy bots,” startups are eager to jump into the only recently de-stigmatized mental health space. The question is: are Boston iPhone app developers ready to tackle such a complex problem? And more importantly, is the tech sophisticated enough to offer solutions outside traditional medicine?

The answer is lukewarm “yes and no” if you ask most people in the industry. Suicide prevention is probably the closest thing to definitive proof of concept for mental health apps, thanks to the success some services have had in detecting warning signs in user behavior before friends and family take heed of it. Suicide takes second place in cause of death for US teenagers, leading many to feel that any solution that works — even sometimes — is worth its weight in gold.

Other companies in the space are focussed on the day-to-day depressions and frustrations we all feel. Koko, an iPhone app that helps users get fresh perspectives on their problems, has faced criticism and praise for their crowdsourced micro-counseling service. Users interviewed in a profile in The Verge described their experience as positive and helpful. Ethics mishaps with testing bot counselors on Reddit, however, put the company in a less flattering light.

Regardless of how any individual AI app development company tackles the mental health problem, MedTech is one of the fastest growing fields in the startup world. In a connected world, the general public has become accustomed to turning to their phones when they need help. In the near future, app developers may provide a shoulder to cry on, fresh perspectives, and even life-saving mental health services.

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