By Nicholas Varchaver
February 12, 2017

Good Morning.

One of the most often-voiced criticisms of Silicon Valley in recent years, to paraphrase billionaire investor Peter Thiel, is that it promised a revolution and delivered… apps that let you get your dinner delivered. The California Sunday Magazine has an article that serves as an unexpected rejoinder. It examines apps that use artificial intelligence to tackle serious problems such as eating disorders. Entitled “The Mental Health Hack,” it notes that “more than 300 mental health startups have launched in the past two years alone, and venture capital investment has grown dramatically.”

The story-telling, which focuses on an app that attempts to help with eating disorders and one of the key people behind it, is excellent. And the article lays out what seems like solid evidence that some of these apps actually work. There are surprising nuggets along the way. For example, the article mentions an artificial intelligence program, featuring a videogame-like character named Ellie, that was used to interview 24 Colorado National Guard servicemen “before and after they were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency–funded study to better diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder…. When soldiers talked to Ellie, they revealed more symptoms of PTSD than in their standard post-deployment health surveys.” Apparently, the soldiers were more comfortable sharing intimate details with an electronic apparition than with a human being. If artificial intelligence could be used to help people with PTSD or eating disorders, that would turn out to be the best sort of rebuttal to the criticisms leveled against Silicon Valley.





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