I listened to an NPR broadcast recently that described a new animated, robotic shrink called Ellie.
www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/05/20/182593855. Ellie, is a youngish woman, her hair tied into a professional looking ponytail, wearing a blue blouse, tan sweater and a delicate gold chain, She asks you how you’re doing and encourages you to talk (she even utters a well timed “uh-huh” just like a real shrink does).

Developed by a psychologist and a computer scientist at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, Ellie’s greatest skill may not be her gentle probing, her real talent is in taking and analyzing thousands of measurements. While getting you to talk, Ellie is also recording your eye movements, facial expressions, voice inflection, gestures and body language. This virtual woman is also a camera and sensors that are tracking thousands of measurements every minute, she records every wince, pause, hesitation, and later analyzes the data to see how depressed you are.

Ellie was originally commissioned by the US Department of Defense to help the Military deal with the escalating problem of PTSD and suicide among servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The developers say the idea was never to have Ellie replace trained therapists, but to sensitize the VA system to seek out these vets and counsel them. Maybe a Shrink Bot is a good idea for vets who fear confiding to an officer, but I think it’s a bad idea generally.
It’s only a matter of time before this app will go public and soon businesses/marketers/politicians will give away great freebies if you’ll just talk to them. They will analyze over 1800 measurements a minute and get a read on how you think, what you like, how your brain responds to their pitch so that they can sell you something. Doesn’t that sound like big brother has finally arrived?

From a clinical perspective, it’s notoriously difficult to make decisions based on now somebody looks, talks, smiles, frowns in the absence of any understanding of the person’s cultural context. A Shrink Bot only sees what’s going on directly in front of them, and has no real idea about the essence of who you are and how you see the world.

Ellie is going to be available as a  $10 phone app, which will allow you to that you can talk to her whenever you want to. But talking endlessly about your problems is not the same as changing them. To change your dysfunctional behaviors requires a relationship with someone/s you like, respect, and trust; who gets the essence of you and cares enough about you to be willing to confront you with your crap; a caring, loving, personal relationship that can show you a path through your denial/resistance/fear, and guide you to a healthier place.