The computer will see you now

Posted on August 22, 2014

Photo: Jonathan Gratch

When faced with tough or potentially embarrassing questions, people often do not tell doctors what they need to hear. Yet the researchers behind Ellie, an AI psychologist, led by Jonathan Gratch at the Institute for Creative Technologies, in Los Angeles, suspected from their years of monitoring human interactions with computers that people might be more willing to talk if presented with an avatar.

To test this idea, they put 239 people in front of Ellie (pictured above) to have a chat with her about their lives. Half were told (truthfully) they would be interacting with an artificially intelligent virtual human; the others were told (falsely) that Ellie was a bit like a puppet, and was having her strings pulled remotely by a person.

During their time with Ellie, all participants had their faces scanned for signs of sadness, and were given a score ranging from zero (indicating none) to one (indicating a great degree of sadness). Also, three real, human psychologists, who were ignorant of the purpose of the study, analysed transcripts of the sessions, to rate how willingly the participants disclosed personal information.

Psychologists observing the subjects found that those who thought they were dealing with a human were indeed less forthcoming.

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Source material from The Economist


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