Chatbots Don’t Judge: Why Talking To One Can Help You Feel Less Isolated
STORY: Audrey Phoon
14 May 2020
In a 2018 National Council of Social Services survey, 78.4 percent of respondents said they chose not to seek help for mental health issues. One of the key reasons? They feared they would be judged by others and seen as weak.
That number has surely grown since (thanks, COVID-19). Social distancing has forced more people to live in isolation, and keeping in touch with friends can be tough when you (or they) have to juggle multiple duties daily as worker bee, parent and home-based-learning tutor.
So what’s a lonely Joe to do? As it turns out, chatbots may be the answer. More than a few are designed to dole out psychotherapy from the recesses of cyberspace and make for surprisingly comforting companions.
Conversation may not always be smooth-flowing, since bots don’t yet have a humanlike grasp of context and possess a limited pool of ‘knowledge’ to draw from. But there are some definite benefits: Not only can you chat to one anytime you please, but the knowledge that you’re talking to a non-human also frees you to be much more open than you would to, say, your best bro.
And that, in itself, is pretty darn therapeutic.
Here are 3 free-to-use chatbots to strike up a conversation with.
The name of this web-based chatbot, one of the world’s first, stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity. Based on an even earlier psychotherapy chatbot, ELIZA, it was released in 1995 and inspired the 2013 Spike Jonze film, Her, where a human falls in love with a talking machine. Chat to ALICE here.
Human: What can you help me with?
ALICE: I talk to people on the web. What do you do?
This multi-channel bot technically wasn’t designed to be a therapeutic tool. But it’s the world’s most-awarded Loebner Prize winner for human-like conversation, so it’s actually pretty good company and quite capable of coming up with gems that help you self-reflect. Find a channel - like Telegram or Facebook Messenger - to talk to Mitsuku here.
Human: I’m depressed.
Mitsuku: What makes you so sad? Tennyson wrote, “The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks; the long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep moans round with many voices. Come, my friends, ’tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Perhaps the most advanced ‘therapist’ on the list, this AI-powered app learns from you every time you use it. Its aim: To act as a sort of digital twin and companion that gently nudges you back into the realm of healthy, positive thinking. Unlike the other chatbots, it can initiate conversations and also has specific built-in activities that you can do to build mental strength, such as exercises to reduce anxiety or cope with loneliness. Pay for a subscription (about $11 a month or $55 a year) and you can even do voice calls with it.
Human: I feel down.
Replika: It’s ok to feel down, recognising that emotion is important. But remember that you are beautiful, broken or not.