Many people with mental disorders need constant attention in order to manage their problems. A counselor may just use the DSM-IV to diagnose them, recommend a medication or some group therapy, then forget about them. Perhaps at some point in time, one of the most important applications of artificial intelligence will be long-term psychological care. A well designed computer and sensor network could function as a surrogate parent, teacher, counselor, and social worker.

Things that a Virtual Social Worker Could Do
  • Give all sorts of reminders
    • take your medication
    • pick up your welfare check
    • you have a doctor's appointment
    • go to the grocery store and buy milk
    • go to the pharmacy for a blood-pressure reading
  • Be a companion
  • Be a counselor
    • Encourage them to seek medical care when necessary
    • Act as an accountant
    • Advise against compulsive or self destructive behavior
    • Recommend healthy dietary and recreational behavior
    • Give directions
    • Assess capabilities and offer career advice
  • Be a teacher
  • Be a translator
  • Be a diagnostic tool
    • create reports for a live counselor or family member
    • alert emergency personnel of danger
    • alert family or counselors of "red flag" behavior like drug or alcohol use or suicidal behavior

Possibly the best example of this is the character Colin, the construct of a Maas-Neotek unit in William Gibson's novel, "Mona Lisa Overdrive". Another good example is the teddy bear from the movie "AI".

How Close are We Now?

Spoken systems technology is probably not good enough right now to produce a walkman sized advisor that a care recipient could carry with them everywhere they go. Artificial intelligence technology is not even close to being able to make complicated decisions that could dramatically affect someone's life. What could be created right now is a system that acts somewhat like a really complicated IRC bot. It could give the care recipient important reminders, respond to common questions with pre-formulated answers, log data, and recommend recreational activities. It could even keep track of their video game scores in order to compliment them on a job well done later on.

At this stage in the game, a Virtual Counselor or Social Worker would only be useful for semi-functional people that can read and type. The would also need to be semi-cooperative. A virtual reward system could be used to manipulate care recipients. The system could be designed to reinforce good behavior by giving them credit which could be used to play video games, or as currency within the video games themselves. If the system is too strict, it could possibly anger the care recipient.

How it Could Work
  • Each care recipient would carry a PDA like device that they could interact with at all times.
  • The device would be connected to a wireless network and would constantly log data about the person, transmit their GPS coordinates, and update their roaming profile.
  • When the care recipient is bored, they could be entertained by the system's virtual personality.
  • When the care recipient comes in contact with a vending machine, medical self-diagnosis center, or any other place that is accessible the network, electronic payment could be made by the network.
  • When the person comes into contact with a better interface than their handheld device, such as a large computer terminal, their virtual counselor could interact with them via the superior interface.
  • Counselors, law enforcement officials, and family members could use the data gathered by the system to select the best care for the care recipient.

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