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Therapist bots: AI and mental health

When British charity The Samaritans was forced to abandon its ‘Radar’ Twitter app in 2014, many in the health community worried that emerging AI technology was poorly suited to the sensitivity of mental illness.

The app, designed to read users’ tweets for evidence of suicidal thoughts, was criticised for a host of reasons, with one online petition accusing Radar of breaching the privacy of vulnerable Twitter users by alerting everybody – friends and foe alike – of their condition.

But three years on, it appears the incident has not halted AI’s incursion into psychological healthcare, which artificial intelligence developers believe could be one of their technology’s most exciting applications.

One such backer is Jim Schwoebel, CEO of US-based NeuroLex, who made headlines last year with his tool to help doctors screen patients for schizophrenia. When Schwoebel’s brother developed psychosis, he told The Atlantic last year, doctors required more than 10 primary-care appointments before he was diagnosed....