The Opportunity for More Human-Computer Conversations (Using Chatbots) During Social Distancing in a Pandemic

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The talk will outline the current challenges and opportunities for chatbots and conversational assistants to promote mental wellbeing. Given that ‘lockdowns’ and social distancing are measures to combat the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, and when considering the potential economic impact and personal job loses (and indeed the loss of relatives), many people may experience increased anxiety, depression or other wellbeing problems. As a result, people may need support to engender a more positive mental wellbeing. Social distancing can also create lonely environments for people who are secluded and may result in further social isolation and loneliness. Computer technologies and digital health interventions can be used to support mental wellbeing. One particular digital intervention is the ‘chatbot’. A chatbot is a program that allows a user to have a conversation with a computer, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A chatbot can coach users by providing psycho-education and support through engaging dialogues and by suggesting activities that are suitable to the user. Whether it is appropriate to anthropomorphize a chatbot is a concern but theories such as ‘computers as social actors – CASA’ postulate that humans already humanize their interactions with digital technology. In this presentation, I will discuss a project called ChatPal that is funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme. I will discuss survey results that detail the degree to which mental health professionals support the prescription of chatbots to clients. I will then discuss needs analysis that informed the design of a chatbot to support mental wellbeing which is being released during this COVID-19 pandemic. The chatbot uses a positive psychology framework to coach users on how to maintain positive emotions. I will also discuss the ethical aspects of chatbots and whether people really should talk or have a dialogue with a computer that lacks a conscience, empathy and understanding.
Period7 Jul 202010 Jul 2020
Event titleThe 13th Textile Bioengineering and Informatics Symposium
Event typeConference


  • Artificial Intelligence
  • chatbots
  • mental health
  • COVID-19