Meet Ellie, The Virtual Psychologist

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Two scientists at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies have developed a virtual psychologist named Ellie; and she might be more perceptive than the average human psychologist. She was designed to help see past a person’s words by analyzing their mannerisms to determine their emotional state. Using an Xbox Kinect sensor, users respond to a series of questions from Ellie that are surprisingly realistic. She even pauses, nods, and has over 200 different ways to say “uh-huh”.

The U.S. Department of Defense commissioned the project that birthed Ellie due to the amount of suicides committed by military professionals; a group of individuals that are less likely to admit anything is wrong. The hope is that Ellie will be able to see something therapists might miss via the patient’s body language and vocal patterns. It tracks the user’s eye gaze, how often they smile, if they lean back or forward, inflections in their voice, and other signals that the person might be holding back.

Ellie can record 30 measurements per second and monitors about 60 different features; then she analyzes the information for therapists. Of course, not everyone is the same; for instance, some people smile more often naturally than others and it doesn’t necessarily mean one is more depressed than the other. But researchers say that they know Ellie can\’t diagnose individuals, but she may help psychologists view each patient objectively, without any of the natural biases people are predisposed to based on their personal life experiences. It could be a breakthrough technology in fields such as the military, where individuals might be less likely to seek help when they need it the most.

Source: NPR



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