Many people are more comfortable talking to robot psychologists than to humans. A recent study measured how well patients interacted with an artificially intelligent psychologist named Ellie. Some participants were told that humans controlled the avatar with which they were interacting, while others believed the avatars were independent of human control. Interestingly, study participants were less forthcoming when communicating with the human-controlled avatar, but bared their souls to the robots.
Ellie will charge less for her services than her human counterparts, putting downward pressure on mental health care expenditures. The average psychologist earns nearly $73,000 per year. Weighing the benefits against the costs (including employee benefits and training), health care practices should be willing to pay $300,000 for an automated psychologist with a five year “life”. With over 100,000 psychologists employed in the US, this represents a $30 billion market.
The case will become stronger with time. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology, software costs should decline. An appointment with Ellie, therefore, should cost less than the average psychologist rate of $150+ per hour.1 Companies that develop software with natural language processing abilities, such as Nuance NUAN, Google GOOG, Apple AAPL, and Microsoft MSFT will capitalize on this opportunity.
In the US, the “economic cost of untreated mental illness” is over $100 billion each year.2 As technology drives costs down, psychology sessions will become more affordable. As a result, individuals will receive more frequent treatments, improving the health of both the population and the economy.
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