Digital Therapists, Doctors, and Teachers

I guess it shouldn’t shock us that we are entrusting our emotions,  health, and education to our computers. Lately I have been playing Eye Spy to find examples of how the digital world is melting into the physical world. Three examples that really stand out are digital therapists, doctors, and teachers.

First, your cell phone may replace your therapist, at least according to a recent study by Northwestern University. If you are depressed, your phone may be “able to read your mood thanks to sensor data that interprets your location, activity level (via an accelerometer), social context and mood, ultimately detecting signs of depression. The phone learns your typical lifestyle patterns, and notices if you are making calls and getting emails. If it thinks you are creating an isolating environment, it will suggest that you call or see friends.” I guess this is the same kind of advice a therapist would give??? Maybe this is a good thing.

Another way we are entrusting our emotions to computers is with the very cool “ToneCheck” for email. Like a spell checker, ToneCheck will look for phrases in your email that might offend, or come off wrong! Its a cool program and I gladly recommend this tool. The impulsive nature of the medium almost requires that we all have at least one email we wish we could take back.

As for Digital Doctors most of us know that if you have had symptoms and don’t want to, or don’t have time to, then  Dr. Google will gladly see you now. Google has recognized that “Every day, people search … for health information.” Immediately afterwards, they “search for a related condition.” So in order to make everything easier for us, Google has kindly set it up so that “now when you search for a symptom or set of symptoms, you’ll often see a list of possibly related health conditions that you can use to refine your search.” I know that the doctors in real life will absolutely love this! Google does provide the disclaimer that “the list is not authored by doctors and of course is not advice from medical experts.”

Finally, Nicholas Carr ends his book The Shallows with an example regarding digital teachers. “Edexcel, the largest educational testing firm in England, had announced it was introducing ‘artificial intelligence-based, automated marking of exam essays.’ The computerized grading system would ‘read and assess’ the essay shtat British students write as part of a widely used test of language proficiency. A spokesperson for Edexcel, which is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate Pearson, explained that the system ‘produced the accuracy of human markers while eliminating human elements such as tiredness and subjectivity.” I know many students would prefer that a computer marked their papers, but I’m not sure if it would instill the same kind of confidence as hearing from another human being that you are doing a good job.

Well, I spy with my little digital eye a different sort of futuristic hybrid world!


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