Voice assistants, Ad Astra and mental health

Can voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant change the future of mental health programmes? Or the future is already here? Let’s talk about it this #MentalHealthAwarenessDay Ad Astra, the sci-fi movie now in theatres starring Brad

Can voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant change the future of mental health programmes? Or the future is already here? Let’s talk about it this #MentalHealthAwarenessDay


Ad Astra, the sci-fi movie now in theatres starring Brad Pitt, shows (no spoilers here) how astronauts in the near future could use voice assistants to monitor their mental health. This perspective is at the same time still strange but closer to our present that you think: Every day 7 million people in the UK will talk to their voice assistant, according to Deloitte. Figures in other markets such as the USA are even higher.

In the film, Brad Pitt faces long trips through space among other risky and potentially stressful situations and periodically talks with a voice device that declares if he is well or needs some kind of treatment. The film does not clarify whether everybody in space needs to pass those tests, or if it is just for some with a higher risk of mental health related issues.

The spectator may judge if this is a good use of the technology or not, but returning to the present it seems that voice assistants are already prepared to these kind of emergencies. As Abilitynet explains in a recent article:

The manufacturers and programmers have been forced to recognise that some may choose to reach out to these devices and disclose feelings; tell your Google Home or Alexa that you feel lonely and they will respond (Alexa gives hints and tips; talk to a friend, go for a walk, Google tells you it’s there for you!), tell them you’re going to kill yourself and they will reassure you that you are not alone and give you the contact details of the Samaritans. 

So, it is clear that the connection that users are feeling with these devices is stronger than with others such as smartphones or computers and only because it is more human to use voice.

The coming years will see how voice assistants can be used as a complement to already established treatment or even further for the prevention of mental health related issues.

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