Ellie The “Virtual Therapist” Will Always Be There To Listen

Say you had an emotional emergency and desperately needed a trained therapist to hear you out. Well, Ellie—a combo of AI and 3D animation—could be that therapist.

Invented by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies—and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—Ellie is designed to help veterans suffering from PTSD.

She’s not meant to be a substitute for a licensed therapist, but rather serves the dual function of 1) gathering data on the patient’s current mental and physical state via analysis tools and 2) presumably being a sympathetic ear to listen.

Watching the video demonstration of Ellie in action…she’s pretty good. Her voice, mannerisms, and even pauses approximate that of a living person. Not a replacement of a human by any means, but one would imagine that with advancements in AI it would only be a matter of time.

There is also the larger issue of a shortage of people to treat people with mental health issues. For example, an ex-director of the Department of Veterans Affairs recently admitted that as much as one-third of all calls placed to their suicide hotline remained unanswered. What if a “fleet” of Ellies were activated to deal with this overflow? It is better than nothing.

Here is Ellie in action:

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