Psychology and other “helping professions” reminiscent of counselling and social work are sometimes considered quintessentially human domains. Unlike employees in manual or routine jobs, psychologists generally see no threat to their profession from advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Economists largely agree. One of essentially the most wide-ranging and influential surveys of the way forward for employment, by Oxford economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, rated the probability that psychology may very well be automated within the near future at a mere 0.43%. This work was initially carried out in 2013 and expanded upon in 2019.

We are behavourial scientists studying organisational behaviour, and one among us (Ben Morrison) can also be a registered psychologist. Our evaluation over the past 4 years shows the concept psychology can’t be automated is now old-fashioned.

Psychology already makes use of many automated tools, and even without significant advances in AI we foresee significant impacts within the very near future.

What do psychologists do all day?

Previous projections assumed the work of a psychologist requires extensive empathic and intuitive skills. These are unlikely to be replicated by machines any time soon.

However, we argue the everyday psychologist’s job has 4 primary components: assessment, formulation, intervention, and evaluation of end result. Each component can already be automated to some extent.

  • Assessment of a client’s strengths and difficulties is essentially carried out by computer-driven presentations of psychological tests, interpretation of results and the writing of interpretative reports.

  • The rules for diagnosis of conditions are far advanced, to the extent that call trees are extensively utilized by practitioners.

  • Interventions are designed along formulaic lines, providing explicit rules for the presentation of guidance and problem solving, with exercises and reflections at specific points within the therapy.

  • Evaluation is essentially a replay of the initial assessment.

Much of the work of the helping skilled doesn’t require empathy or intuition. Psychology has essentially laid the groundwork for the replication of human practice by a machine.

A occupation in denial?

Nearly 4 years ago, we published an article within the bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society, asking how AI and other advanced technologies would disrupt the helping professions. We were conservative in our predictions, besides we suggested significant potential impacts on employment and education.

We weren’t arguing that so-called “strong” AI would emerge to exchange humanity. We simply showed how the type of narrow AI that currently exists (and is steadily improving) could invade the job territory of the helping professions.

AI-driven mental health chatbots are already available.

A spread of AI-driven mental health apps are already available, reminiscent of Cogniant and Woebot. Several such products adopt cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) procedures, widely considered the “gold standard” of intervention for a lot of psychological conditions.

These programs typically use artificially intelligent conversational agents, or chatbots, to supply a type of talking therapy that helps users manage their very own mental health. Research on the technology has already shown great promise.

Our concern in regards to the future was not, nonetheless, shared amongst members of the helping professions. Still, we proceed to present our case widely.

AI deployment is accelerating

Four years later, we imagine the impacts of this technology may arrive even before we thought. Three things specifically may drive this acceleration.

The first is the rapid progress in automated systems that may replicate (and sometimes exceed) human decision-making capacities. The development of deep learning algorithms and the emergence of advanced predictive analytic systems threaten the relevance of execs. With access to big data within the psychological and related literature, AI systems will be used to evaluate and intervene with clients.

The second factor is an emerging “tsunami” of AI impacts warned of by economists. Developments in information technology haven’t yet been reflected in widespread productivity gains, but as Canadian researchers Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb have argued, it’s likely AI predictive ability will soon be a superior alternative to human judgement in lots of areas. This may trigger a big restructuring of the employment market.

The third factor is the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for mental health services increased dramatically, with crisis services reminiscent of Lifeline and Beyond Blue reporting 15-20% more contacts in 2020 than in 2019. Pandemic-related mental illness is just not expected to peak until mid 2021.

At the identical time, in-person care was often ruled out – in late April 2020, half of Medicare-funded mental health services were delivered remotely. Meditation and mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm also saw downloads soar.

This provides further evidence that clients will readily engage in technology-mediated types of therapy. At the very least, the improved efficiencies will increase the variety of clients that will be managed by a single human psychologist.

How many psychologists will we’d like?

Given all this, what number of human psychologists will the society of the very near future require? It’s a difficult query to reply.

As we now have seen, it’s almost certain the work of psychologists will be replaced largely by AI. Does this mean human psychologists get replaced by AI?

Many of us may feel uncomfortable with this concept. However, we now have an ethical obligation to make use of the treatment that offers the perfect outcomes for patients. If an AI-based solution is found to be more practical, reliable and cost-effective, it needs to be adopted.

Governments and healthcare organisations are more likely to have to handle these issues within the near future. There can be impact upon the employment and training and education of execs.

The professions have to be an integral a part of the response. We urge psychology and related allied health professions to take a lead and never wilfully ignore the trends.

We recommend three concrete actions to enhance the situation:

  • boost investment in research into how humans and machines can work together within the assessment and treatment of mental health

  • encourage attention to technology amongst members of the occupation

  • give technological impacts greater consideration in projecting the longer term landscape of the occupation, particularly when fascinated with job growth, education and training.

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