THE DOCTOR IS IN — Virtual humans help us be more honest


Some first research exploring how people are more honest and less embarrassed when sharing very personal details with a virtual Human than they are with the real thing. There is the promise of help for people struggling with serious mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress. 


TESA  Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts


Research carried out by the University of Southern California is the first of its kind and shows a willingness on the part of patients to divulge even very embarrassing information if they believe there is no human involved.

Subjects recruited through Craigslist aged between eighteen and sixty five were evaluated using SimSensei, a virtual human application able to pick up signals of depression and anxiety through both real-time sensing and non-verbal behaviours.

The aim is to see whether such technology can be of help to real people. The virtual human Ellie would ask questions, feedback, and express empathetic listening, thereby developing rapport and not judging – two important things when it comes to disclosing personal information important to the beginning of diagnosis and therapy.


Whilst the researchers point out this is not a replacement to real people offering the necessary care and support, but a way of opening up the process with more important and critical information being available sooner.

I find it fascinating how people can be more honest to a virtual human and wonder about how this will not only be something which helps more serious mental conditions but also those carried around by people which inhibit them from flourishing in their lives.



“The study provides the first empirical evidence that virtual humans can increase a patient’s willingness to disclose personal information in a clinical setting. It also presents compelling reasons for doctors to start using virtual humans as medical screeners. The honest answers acquired by a virtual human could help doctors diagnose and treat their patients more appropriately.” (Tanya Abrams – USC)

“One participant who thought the virtual human was automated said the experience was “way better than talking to a person. I don’t really feel comfortable talking about personal stuff to other people”.” (Tanya Abrams – USC)

Tweet: The Doctor is in — meet Ellie, your virtual therapist. Trend spotting @theimn @geoffreybaines


Futurity: 21st July 2014

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Quick Thinking Flying Robot

TOPIC: Really small, flying robot that can make quick decisions.

Technology, Entrepreneurship, Society, Arts

FINDING: “Dutch scientists have developed the world’s smallest autonomous flapping drone, a dragonfly-like beast with 3-D vision that could revolutionise our experience of everything from pop concerts to farming.”

IMPLICATIONS: This technology has been developing for years but never before has it been this small or this smart. A “bug” that can fly around, potentially unnoticed, “seeing” what we see and recording data; a bug that can go into places where “radio control would be impossible”. It sounds like something from the movie Mission Impossible.

flying robot
flying robot

Beyond some of the less complex uses of this technology, such as spotting ripe fruit in a greenhouse or dressed up as Tinkerbell at Disneyland, it could be used to “spy” on people, record conversations and video record events happening behind closed doors where conventional (and legal by today’s standard) methods would be impossible.

This could have a serious influence on the laws surrounding the collection of evidence and it’s admissibility in court, among other areas. The DelFly could be the future undercover police officer, replacing the need to put people in harm’s way. As crimes become more complex, our laws and ways of enforcing them will need to also change in order to remain effective. The DelFly could be a useful tool in this way.


“The Explorer has its own small lithium polymer battery that allows it to fly for around nine minutes, while it “sees” with its onboard processor and a specially-developed algorithm to make instant decisions.”

“Over the next few years, research continued and the machine became smaller and smaller, said Sjoerd Tijmons, 28, who helped write the algorithm for the latest DelFly Explorer’s “brain”.”

“But De Croon admits that humans are not quite able to produce swarms of autonomous robotic insects the size of bees or flies, mainly because of restrictions on battery life.”


Robot Magic

 TOPIC: Self-Assembling Robot

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

FINDING: Small cube shaped robots — called M blocks — that can assemble themselves will get smaller and may become autonomous


Imagine coming home and entering an apparently empty room. You walk to the window and begin to sit down.  Tiny robots immediately begin to assemble themselves into a chair the rises to meet you as you sit.

It will seem like magic,  but it’s just 21st century technology at work.  The applications for this kind of technology are immense. Imagine an earthquake damaged building or a bridge about to collapse. Call in the swarm of M blocks and watch them solve how to support the structures and spare human life.

Could we also see swarms of insect like things taking over the planet?  Come on. That couldn’t happen.

Welcome to the future.


“In the future we envision … the modules …completely autonomously, in a distributed fashion, deciding how, when, and where to move… so we want to take a large group of cubes and tell them, “form this shape” …and have the cubes decide on their own how to accomplish that task.”


MIT News Office

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