Building an Emotional Artificial Brain — Motivations

“An estimated one in five people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder.”and “… cost an estimated $467 billion in the U.S. in lost productivity and medical expenses ($2.5 trillion globally).” are some of the lines that can be read in an interesting article about Virtual Reality Therapy published in TechCrunch. Now just like me, you will probably be shocked to know that VR has been used to treat some types of mental disorders for decades. So why is it that most people have never heard of such thing? I suspect the reasons to be two.

First, VR has so far failed to enter the mainstream of popular tech. The main reasons for this are that in order to create real immersive virtual experiences it is necessary to have an absurd amount of resources, as free to roam worlds will need a higher level of details than the best video games out there. Moreover, in order to run VR software and display such virtual worlds, it is necessary to have an incredibly powerful hardware. Even the Oculus Rift, the device that promises to bring descent VR to the masses, requires you to have a high-end computer that many can’t afford (or don’t need).

Second, and the most important to me is that in the realm of mental health, VR has mostly been used to treat fears, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To treat arachnophobia for instance, the patient can be safely exposed to virtual spiders in a virtual room, in order to help her overcome this problem. Special hardware can also be constructed to simulate a virtual airplane to help a patient overcome the fear of flying. Virtual “worlds at war” can be constructed to help veterans with PTSD. The complication is that, in order to treat other mental health disorders that require direct interaction with another human (like the trauma after being raped, or a child with autism), most VR therapies require the (often indirect) intervention of a trained therapist. The problem is that access to professionals of mental health is scarce.

So this is one case where the need for the Emotional Artificial brain becomes evident. If such technology existed, it could be incorporated into virtual therapists created using artificial intelligence. Such virtual humans could maintain conversations with the patient (trained using transcriptions of real sessions) and adapt the conversation (content and tone) based on the emotions being expressed by the patient (tone, content, facial expressions). If such technology existed, it could bring VR-based therapy even closer to the masses, and who knows, maybe in 5–10 years no one would be surprised to hear about VR being used to fight The Global Mental Health Crisis.

The TechCrunch article that inspired this writing is this: Virtual Reality Therapy: Treating The Global Mental Health Crisis

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