ICT Developing Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence Tools for Mental Health

Published: April 12, 2012
Category: Press Releases | News

Effort is part of a new DoD initiative to use telemedicine and virtual humans to address barriers to care and to provide better care for service members who seek treatment for psychological issues, including post-traumatic stress, depression and suicide risk

Press Contact: Orli Belman

Imagine computer systems that can detect depression by analyzing facial expressions, body gestures and speech.

Such sensitive software has the potential to assist healthcare workers providing assistance over remote telemedicine applications that cannot convey subtle communication clues usually detected in face-to-face interactions. The software can also administer support in the form of an interactive virtual provider who can interact, based on signals from the patient transmitted via cameras and sensors, on a laptop or computer.

At the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) experts in computer science and psychology are making these perceptive programs a reality in order to better identify and treat service members and veterans suffering from psychological health issues, including PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation.

Funded by DARPA and in collaboration with scientists at MIT-spinoff Cogito Health Inc., a team of ICT researchers recognized for developing trailblazing technologies used to treat psychological trauma and track human behaviors, is developing sensing systems that can capture and comprehend communication clues and then use that information to better understand people’s emotional states and how to help them.

“Study after study show increasing incidence of PTSD and other psychological issues among today’s returning service members, ” said Albert ‘Skip’ Rizzo, an ICT psychologist who directs the MedVR Lab and is is co‐leading this research effort at the multidisciplinary institute. “Many people suffer in silence because they fear the stigma that may come from seeking help through traditional channels or because they simply don’t know where to turn. Computer‐mediated care offers anonymity and access that may help reach these service men and women who need it most.”

Rizzo’s other technology‐for-health work includes developing Kinect‐ based computer games for motor and brain injury rehabilitation and a virtual reality exposure therapy system for treating PTSD that is being used in close to 60 clinical sites across the country.

ICT’s pioneering efforts on the DARPA Detection and Computational Analysis of Psychological Signals (DCAPS) project encompass advances in the artificial intelligence fields of machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision. It will also bring these techniques to the next level by defining a framework capable of analyzing language, gestures and social signals to detect distress cues.

The technologies will be integrated with existing ICT virtual humans, including the current SimCoach prototype that provides resources and support based on what it learns about users through conversations over the internet. DCAPS is not aimed at providing an exact diagnosis, but at providing a general metric of psychological health.

Privacy and security are of paramount concern to the DCAPS program. Program data will be collected with the informed consent of individuals involved and stored in a secure, private data-sharing framework. DCAPS will develop, in conjunction with leading privacy experts, a novel trust framework such as envisioned in the National Strategy for Secure Identity in Cyberspace. This trust framework will allow warfighters to control and safely share their “honest signals” data.

“This project paves the way for a new generation of interactive virtual human‐based systems that can recognize audio‐visual signals correlated with the psychological state of the user, such as the levels of anxiety, understanding and engagement, ” said Louis‐Philippe Morency, who with Rizzo heads up the project research team, directs the MultiComp Lab at ICT and is a research assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “We are getting one step closer to creating computers that can interact in a more human-like ways. I see a bright future where these technologies are applied to new medical and educational applications, making knowledge and social services more accessible to everyone.”

About the USC Institute for Creative Technologies
At the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, high‐tech tools and classic storytelling come together to pioneer new ways to teach and train. Historically, simulations focus on drills and mechanics. What sets ICT apart is a focus on human interactions and emotions. ICT is a world leader in developing virtual humans who think and behave like real people and in creating immersive environments that experientially transport participants to other places. ICT research and technologies include virtual reality applications for mental health, video games for U.S. soldiers to hone negotiation and cultural awareness skills and virtual human museum guides who teach science concepts to young people.

About Cogito
Cogito Corporation, headquartered in Charlestown, MA, serves organizations responsible for improving the health and well‐being of populations by delivering real time call center and mobile based psychological sensing systems that improve customer and patient engagement and detect individual risk of behavioral health problems in populations. Cogito’s Social Signal Processing (SSP) Platform technology assesses “honest signals” or unconscious cues in natural speech and social behavior to support more timely intervention for psychological issues, as well as to improve health engagement and outcomes in people coping with psychological disorders, chronic illness and disability. The company also conducts fundamental research to investigate additional applications of social signaling and human behavior analysis. Cogito was founded based on conceptual frameworks developed at the Human Dynamics Lab at MIT. For more information, please visit www.cogitocorp.com.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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