How AI can help human wellbeing

From chatbot therapists to smart glasses for the visually impaired, there are many opportunities emerging for AI to help improve health and wellbeing.
5 September 2018

The wonderful ways AI is impacting health and wellbeing. Source: Shutterstock

Technology is everywhere, or so we’re told.

But there are times and places that you don’t expect it to impact you and really make you stop and think about the world.

So there I was, walking along through the Salt Lake City admiring the impressive capitol building that stands high on a hill overlooking the state of Utah’s capital city. The Wasatch Mountains rose up to the east and north around me… and the clean air valley air was refreshing and invigorating.

Strolling through the City Creek Center area in the middle of town, I wandered aimlessly towards the overground tram station without any real intention of going one way or another.

Suddenly a booming but friendly voice called out, “Hey buddy, are you headed out towards Main Street right now?”

No doggie to guide

I turned around to see a heavy-set young man, probably in his late twenties, carrying a blind person’s white cane and wearing thick dark sunglasses. With no dog to help guide him, he was clearly struggling to find his way, but there was good reason for his disorientation.

“It’s a Sunday and it’s quiet and the traffic is usually my friend as it tells me which direction to head towards,” he said.

I replied to say that I wasn’t headed to Main Street station, but I would be happy to hold his shoulder and walk with him.

Marcus (that was his name) asked me if I was a tourist and I told him no, I was in town for a technology convention and was just killing some time in the day before I could justify heading for a bar and sinking some of Utah’s notoriously weak but still pleasingly refreshing beer.

“Ah well, since you’re tech guy and you’re helping me, I guess you’d be wondering why I wasn’t using Aira right now,” asked Marcus.

I had no idea what Aira was, so he explained.

Smart glasses to share eyeballs

Using a smartphone or a pair of Google Glass style smart glasses, a blind or vision-impaired Aira user can connect to a remote, trained professional who can provide assistance on-demand using a live camera stream, GPS, maps and other information.

One would imagine perhaps that these remote ‘sighted’ guides would be offering their service for free, but it appears that they usually do it for a fee.

Aira says its name is derived from two interesting sources: the emerging field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the ancient Egyptian mythological being and symbol known as the Eye of Ra (RA).

So just to finish up because we know you were worried. Marcus got his tram, didn’t get to cover off why he wasn’t walking with a dog or an AI-empowerment device and… perhaps most surprisingly, gave a technology writer (ah-hem, that’s me) the most unexpected in-situ technology use case lesson ever delivered.

Other applications of AI

Of course, this is just one example of smart technology and the application of AI-empowered tools to help people that need extra help in their lives.

We’re now seeing chatbots help people with wellbeing issues.

Woebot has been developed by a team at Stanford University and is being taught to assist people in dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Chatbots are helping individuals with mental health issues. Source: Shutterstock

The technology claims to be able to help people ‘reframe’ their negative thoughts into solvable problems with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

“Learn about yourself with intelligent mood tracking — and get over 100+ evidence-based lessons, exercises, and stories from our clinical team,” promises Woebot.

Woebot founder Alison Darcy has said that there is a reason why almost all good therapeutic approaches are conversational and that’s because they work. Just the same conversational approach that Marcus had in his quest to find the tram home.

Perhaps the lesson here from both examples is that we should recognize the potential value that AI could give us, but keep talking to each other like real human beings at the same time.