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Chatbots and AI as personal health coaches – an interview with researcher and CTO Avi Ben Ezra

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Ben Ezra is an influential researcher and CTO spending a lot of time working on chatbots and AI. In a recent interview, he shares some of his insights in an easy to understand conversational way.

Why are people making use of a personal coach?

“A man by the name of Peter Carrol has once said that individuals have so much power within themselves which needs to be released. Nevertheless, they sometimes need a little nudge, also some direction, timely support and coaching and when these things are present some really amazing things can happen.”

Ezra believes that coaches are people who feel that they have a natural calling to help other people to become all that they can ever be. These people go out every day looking at how they can impact others and helping those individuals to become better at what they are and at what they can do. Their argument is that by helping others to improve, they are also improving themselves. The reality is that life is full of challenges. Many people are under an incredible amount of pressure in their personal lives also in relation to their families as well as in their professional capability. Millions of people today admit that they often feel overwhelmed. This is causing them to be anxious leading to ailments such as chronic and intense depression. This requires medication which is placing a burden on their financial resources. Those feelings of inadequacy become worse over time making people feel even more inadequate.

How can a chatbot personal coach change all of this?

As the CTO of SnatchBot, Ben Ezra knows a tremendous amount of things about artificial intelligence and chatbots. He also is a man who understands the human potential. During his professional career, he has seen many people with enormous potential who have broken under the strain of living life. He is by no means denying the value of having a compassionate and experienced life coach who is able to guide people through the most difficult times of their lives. There is no doubt that a life coach which is available to a troubled individual for many hours in a day can do a lot of good. Nevertheless, no matter how dedicated such a life coach may be, they cannot stay with such a person 24 hours a day. However, a sophisticated chatbot who has been programmed to serve as a life coach can indeed be available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. People must remember that in the majority of cases people only need someone who is willing to listen.

“Ask any practicing psychologists and they will tell you that many of the problems which people are dealing with will lose their impact when that problem is shared.”

What are some of the important factors to consider?

In Christian circles, there is a saying that competing in the race of life is not about winning but about completing the race. This is very much true as far as life coaching is concerned. We need to find a way to continue living life despite all of those seemingly insurmountable problems which are encountered. We simply cannot afford to stagnate; we are living organisms that have to stay in motion.

“Just look at the dead sea,” says Ben Ezra, which he loves a lot since he is staying in Israel. “That sea is dead because it has no outflow. It is a completely stagnant body of water and this is also what people become who has lost the motivation to go on”.

Ezra believes such people will suffer needlessly and they often turn to bad habits such as misusing pharmaceutical products which never solve anything but actually make things worse. When we reached this point our personal and family lives decline and we quickly lose all of the good habits which we might have had. When this happens we are no better than the living dead. At this people are merely existing and not really living.

How can a chatbot life coach turn the situation around?

Very often people can become so inundated in all of the things that are showered on them during their everyday life. It can be so easy to lose perspective and to become despondent and depressed. In many cases, people only require someone who can help them to look at things objectively. They only need to see things from a different perspective. So many people have been locked up in their own little safe environment sometimes for decades that have completely lost the thread of all the possibilities which are available in the world around us today. The most well-known coaches today are those who are attached to professional athletes. These coaches will work ceaselessly with those athletes and will continue to shape and sculpt them until they become the very best they could ever be. Most people today automatically accept the fact that when we look at athletes performing at the highest levels that somewhere behind them is an amazingly gifted individual who has been coaching those athletes over many years. However, there are many other kinds of coaches helping people with many other things which are often even more important than performing on the race track. Ben Ezra and his team of researchers and psychologists work continuously to better understand and improve this.

What could a sophisticated chatbot accomplish?

There is an artificial intelligence entity known as PocketConfidant which is a well-known virtual coach. According to some people who interacted with this chatbot, this chatbot has done an amazing job of getting people with problems to actually talk about the issues. These people were conscious of how the attention of the chatbot made them feel. The process was logical and efficient even though the people making use of PocketConfidant were always aware of the fact that they were actually doing the counseling on their own. That is because they understand that they were speaking to an artificial intelligence entity. According to Ezra, participants said that if the goal of the program was to get troubled individuals to address their problems in a positive way and to devise a strategy for improvement then without a doubt PocketConfidant were able to successfully accomplish those objectives. Participants have said that the process was always flowing naturally and that it was a positive experience. Some of the things which people have discovered while working with PocketConfidant are how they were able to see things more objectively. They also started to realize their responsibilities relating to many things in their lives. Ezra is very optimistic that the use of these chatbots will make personal coaches available to everyone in the near future, and not just to the rich and influential.

Suggested reading: Follow weekly news commentary by Avi Ben Ezra or access Research by Avi Ben Ezra.

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