Joint post from me and G:
Ever struggled with an issue and thought, I need some expert advice? Someone non-judgemental, a counsellor who’s available 24/7…?
Good news – with a Woebot, you can. It’s a robot therapist that uses CBT to give (scripted) answers to users. And remarkably, it seems to work.
In the first study of its kind, regular users report feeling much less anxious and depressed. Research also suggests that folks who know they’re ‘talking’ with a robot open up much more than they would with a human, (see here).
Proverbs says, “The purposes of the heart are deep waters but a person of understanding draws them out.” (Prov 20:5) But perhaps we can go further: “…and if you really want to be understood, talk to a robot”?
So where do you stand on the issue? Phone a friend? Or dial-a-bot?
Here’s a few thoughts…
- We really want to be heard. But this is a need that’s simply not being met. There’s no value in a thousand Facebook friends, if we don’t have a single person to share our hearts with.
- We’re not always picky about who we talk to. Again, think of social media. Sometimes we keep our struggles hidden from loved ones…but spill our guts with people we don’t even know. In the same way, with robo-therapists, there’s a danger that…
- We’re training ourselves to vent rather than relate. Venting can be healthy but in a true friendship we don’t simply update folks on our “status”. We involve ourselves in their lives, and they involve themselves in ours. Chat bots, even more than social media, train us to “download” on others rather than listen and serve. It’s not a relationship if it’s one-sided! But, there are lessons to be learned too..
- Robots “work” because we are not robots. As Proverbs 20:5 teaches us, we don’t really know ourselves. Our hearts are hidden and need to be drawn out. If, in the short term, all we have to talk to is a woebot, then we should talk! In fact, to the degree that a robot draws me out of myself, then it can actually help me to be more human.
- Robots “work” because they are systematic. Users report how glad they are that someone is checking in on them; and in a world of disposable friendships, it’s something that we miss. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity,” (Prov 17:17). Does it takes a robot to give consistent after-care? Perhaps machines should challenge us to be more faithful in our friendships.
- Robots “work” because (unlike human listeners) they allows us to be human. People open up to robots because they know they won’t be judged. People don’t share with people because they worry that they will. There’s a huge problem if our friends think a robot is a safer bet than we are. Instead, we need to be such people of grace that we are better listeners than robots — not just holding back on judgement, but offering compassion, even when our instinct is to flinch.