This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.
Have you ever thought that artificial intelligence may be able to help with treatment planning and placement? If you are like me, you probably didn’t pay much attention to artificial intelligence until Siri started talking back to you on your phone or Alexa told you a funny joke while getting the latest weather update. But what if AI could find the best sponsor for you? Or help track your aftercare plan? Or maybe even be your own sober companion?
Over the past four years, artificial intelligence has seen a “quantum leap in the wide function of everyday technologies,” writes a recent Time Special Investigation into the future of humankind and AI. We can have our evening lights turned on when gone, call our spouse, and translate English into hundreds of different languages. And they tell us we’re not too far from cars that drive themselves. These voice-enabled assistants are transforming the way we think and act and it is all due to scientific breakthroughs made popular by a family of artificial intelligence techniques known as “deep learning.” In layman’s’ terms, this means that programmers have entered into computers learning algorithms which are called “neural nets,” which are essentially hundreds of thousands of words, pictures and speech. The computer “learns” from these neural nets, which forms the basis of artificial intelligence. Pretty amazing!
This type of deep learning is being used for physical and artificial prosthetics, as well as mental health. As a social worker, I am pleased to see that this process is being used in the area of depression too. For folks who experience either manic or depressive periods, one of the hardest tasks is helping a psychiatrist, social worker or other clinician identify when people are most vulnerable to a depressive or manic episode.
One form of artificial intelligence in the mental health field is an app called Cognito. “Cognito is now being tested at facilities like Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The app, installed on a smartphone, searches voice patterns for changes in affect and tone.” As such, when used over time the app can detect when a downward spiral will occur and text that information to both the person, their family, and the mental health professional. In a similar vain as Cognito, Recovery Passport is an app that can predict human behavior and help the person experiencing a substance abuse disorder stay on the right track, writes Silicon Valley Nest, a technology company in Silicon Valley.
As an addiction specialist, developing artificial intelligence like these examples can go a long way in benefitting the health of individuals and whole communities. For example, there is a project at the University of Southern California that employs artificial intelligence in picking out the natural leaders in communities of homeless youth in Venice, CA. Outreach workers then make contact with the identified leaders to help homeless youth seek shelter and reduce the risks and perils of street life, drugs and human trafficking. Imagine running a treatment center and using artificial intelligence to help determine the best behavioral health interventions and treatments for clients and who we might pair a newly recovering person with.
With the coming advent of self-driving cars, there’s the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of traffic accidents, crashes and deaths from driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. In fact, in 2015 there were 6,296,000 car crashes, 35,092 Americans were killed, and traffic-related incidents were highest amongst the 15-24 year-old age group. According to a 2013 study by the nonprofit Eno Center For Transpiration, converting just 10 percent of cars to self-driving would reduce the number of accidents by 211,000 and save 1,100 lives. We already know that driving under the influence accidents are being reduced by ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Just think of the possibility if we have self driving cars.
Despite the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution, AI remains a controversial subject. In a recent Psychology Today article, senior editor Gary Drevitch spoke with physicist Max Tegmark, cofounder of the Future of Life Institute. Tegmark says we must begin thinking about the future and what AI means to us. He imagines a world in which computers are smarter than us. In this case, he indicates we will no longer be homosapiens (which means “man of wisdom”), rather, we will become sentient creatures, meaning we may not be smarter than computers and the machines they drive but we can feel love, joy, pain and heartache more than any machine.
This sentiment is articulated further by David Gelernter who is a pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence. For Gelernter, the human mind is a constellation of feelings which changes over time and try as one might one cannot program “the mind.” He argues in his book, The Tides of Mind, that a computer cannot mimic the vicissitudes of the mind as it operates each day and how it changes over time. No less provocative, he states “we can’t have artificial intelligence until a computer can hallucinate.” Still, Gelernter understands like Max Tegmark that computers will grow in size and ability and be of service humankind and the planet. However, in the end it will be man who will still know “the fear of riding a roller coaster and the flip-flop of young love… or even the exhaustion of grief.” Until then, we will live in extensional limbo developing new ways to assess and intervene in the behavioral health field, still breathing, still feeling.