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In NPJ digital medicine

Voice-based personal assistants using artificial intelligence (AI) have been widely adopted and used in home-based settings. Their success has created considerable interest for its use in healthcare applications; one area of prolific growth in AI is that of voice-based virtual counselors for mental health and well-being. However, in spite of its promise, building realistic virtual counselors to achieve higher-order maturity levels beyond task-based interactions presents considerable conceptual and pragmatic challenges. We describe one such conceptual challenge-cognitive plausibility, defined as the ability of virtual counselors to emulate the human cognitive system by simulating how a skill or function is accomplished. An important cognitive plausibility consideration for voice-based agents is its ability to engage in meaningful and seamless interactive communication. Drawing on a broad interdisciplinary research literature and based on our experiences with developing two voice-based (voice-only) prototypes that are in the early phases of testing, we articulate two conceptual considerations for their design and use-conceptualizing voice-based virtual counselors as communicative agents and establishing virtual co-presence. We discuss why these conceptual considerations are important and how it can lead to the development of voice-based counselors for real-world use.

Kannampallil Thomas, Smyth Joshua M, Jones Steve, Payne Philip R O, Ma Jun


Health services, Translational research