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Mindful of AI: Language, Technology and Mental Health

The workshop comprises four sessions, and you can register for more than one session. Please register for each of the four sessions if you wish to attend the entire workshop.  Registration URLs can be found under 'Related Links' here.

Thursday 1st October

11:00–12:30 Session 1: Social Media and Mental Health

Speakers: Michelle O’Reilly (University of Leicester , Assistant Professor of Communication in Mental Health), Amy Orben 

( University of Cambridge, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit)

14:00–15:30 Session 2: AI and Suicide Risk Detection

Speakers: Glenn Coppersmith (Qntfy), Second Speaker (TBC)


Friday 2nd October

11:00–12.30 Session 3: Automating Therapeutic Dialogues

Speakers: Becky Inkster (University of Cambridge, Department of Psychiatry), Rose McCabe ( Professor of Clinical Communication; City, University of London)

14:00–15:30 Session 4: The Future of Digital Mental Healthcare

Speakers: Valentin Tablan (Chief AI Officer, IESO Digital Health), Second Speaker (TBC)


Workshop overview

ConvenorsBill Byrne (University of Cambridge), Shauna Concannon (University of Cambridge), Ann Copestake (University of Cambridge), Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge), Marcus Tomalin (University of Cambridge), Stefanie Ullmann (University of Cambridge)


Language-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having an ever greater impact on how we communicate and interact. Whether overtly or covertly, such systems are essential components in smartphones, social media sites, streaming platforms, virtual personal assistants, and smart speakers. Long before the worldwide Covid-19 lockdowns, these devices and services were already affecting not only our daily routines and behaviours, but also our ways of thinking, our emotional well-being and our mental health.Social media sites create new opportunities for peer-group pressure, which can heighten feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness (especially in young people); malicious twitterbots can influence our emotional responses to important events; and online hate speech and cyberbullying can cause victims to have suicidal thoughts.

Consequently, there are frequent calls for stricter regulation of these technologies, and there are growing concerns about the ethical appropriateness of allowing companies to inculcate addictive behaviours to increase profitability. Infinite scrolls and ‘Someone is typing a comment’ indicators in messaging apps keep us watching and waiting, and we repeatedly return to check the number of ‘likes’ our posts have received. The underlying software has often been purposefully crafted to trigger biochemical responses in our brains (e.g., the release of serotonin and/or dopamine), and these neurotransmitters strongly influence our reward-related cognition. The powerful psychological impact of such technologies is not always a positive one. Indeed, it sometimes seems appropriate that those who interact with these technologies, and those who inject drugs, are all called ‘users’.

However, while AI-based communications technologies undoubtedly have the potential to harm our mental health, they can also offer forms of psychological support. Machine Learning systems can measure the physical and mental well-being of users by evaluating their language use in social media posts, and a variety of empathetic therapy, care, and mental health chatbots, apps, and conversational agents are already widely available. These applications demonstrate some of the ways in which well-designed language-based AI technologies can offer significant psychological and practical support to especially vulnerable social groups. Indeed, medical professionals have started to consider the possibility that the future of mental healthcare will inevitably be digital, at least in part. Yet, despite their potential benefits, developments such as these raise a number of non-trivial regulatory and ethical concerns.

This two-day virtual interdisciplinary workshop brings together a diverse group of researchers from academia, industry and government, with specialisms in many different disciplines, to discuss the different effects, both positive and negative, that AI-based communications technologies are currently having, and will have, on mental health and well-being.

Posted on 27/07/2020

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