A Stanford researcher is pioneering a dramatic shift in how we treat depression — and Google Brain’s cofounder has joined the effort

alone sad depressed sea

  • Several tech startups have entered the mental health space in recent years, but few have made a real impact.
  • Woebot is an artificially intelligent chatbot designed by Stanford researchers. It uses one of the most heavily researched clinical approaches to treating depression.
  • This week, the company announced that a co-founder of the Google Brain project will serve as Woebot’s new chair.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and it can kill. Yet scientists know surprisingly little about it.

They do know, however, that talking seems to help — especially under the guidance of a licensed mental health professional. But therapy is expensive, inconvenient, and often hard to approach. A recent estimate suggests that of the roughly one in five Americans who have a mental illness, close to two-thirds have gone at least a year without treatment.

Several Silicon Valley-style approaches to the problem have emerged: There are apps that replace the traditional psychiatry office with texting, and chat rooms where you can discuss your problems anonymously online.

The newest of these tech-based treatments is Woebot, an artificially intelligent chatbot designed using cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT — one of the most heavily researched clinical approaches to treating depression.

On Wednesday, the company announced that Andrew Ng, a co-founder of the Google Brain project, will serve as Woebot’s new chairman. The Google Brain research team focuses on artificial intelligence with an emphasis on a machine learning process known as deep learning. According to VentureBeat, Ng believes machine learning could greatly benefit the mental health space, which what led him to Woebot.

Woebot’s designer, Alison Darcy, is a clinical psychologist at Stanford. She tested a version of the technology on a small sample of real people with depression and anxiety long before launching it.

“The data blew us away,” Darcy told Business Insider. “We were like, this is it.”

The results of the trial were published recently in the journal JMIR Mental Health. For the test, Darcy recruited 70 students who said they experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety and split them into two groups. One group spent two weeks chatting with Woebot; the other was directed to a National Institute of Mental Health e-book about depression.

Over two weeks, people in the Woebot group reported that they chatted with the bot almost every day and saw a significant reduction in their depressive symptoms. That’s a promising result for a type of treatment whose results have so far been tough to quantify — there isn’t much research comparing bot therapy with traditional human therapy.

Several studies have suggested that the CBT approach lends itself to being administered online. A review of studies published recently in the journal World Psychiatry compared people who received CBT online with people who received it in person and found that the online setting was just as effective.

Dr. Ali Darcy Headshot 2One reason for this, according to Darcy, is that CBT focuses on discussing things that are happening in your life now as opposed to things that happened to you as a child. As a result, instead of talking to Woebot about your relationship with your mom, you might chat about a recent conflict at work or an argument you had with a friend.

“A premise of CBT is it’s not the things that happen to us — it’s how we react to them,” Darcy said.

Woebot uses that methodology to point out areas where a person might be engaging in what’s called negative self-talk, which can mean they see the environment around them in a distorted way and feel bad about it.

For example, if a friend forgot about your birthday, you might tell Woebot something like, “No one ever remembers me,” or “I don’t have any real friends.” Woebot might respond by saying you’re engaging in a type of negative self-talk called all-or-nothing thinking, which is a distortion of reality. In reality, you do have friends, and people do remember you. One of those friends simply forgot your birthday.

“Self-talk is a part of being human,” Darcy said. “But the kinds of thoughts that we have actually map onto the kinds of emotions we’re feeling.”

Darcy is quick to point out that Woebot is not a replacement for traditional therapy, but an addition to the toolkit of approaches to mental health.

“I tend to not think of this as a better way to do therapy. I think of this as an alternative option,” Darcy said. “What we haven’t done a good job of in the field is give people an array of options. What about the people who aren’t ready to talk to another person?”

DON’T MISS: I’ve been on antidepressants for a decade — here’s the biggest misconception about them

SEE ALSO: Psychedelic drugs could tackle depression in a way that antidepressants can’t

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    Here’s why people on Twitter think Melania Trump was replaced by a body double — and why they’re wrong

    A crazy new conspiracy theory about the First Lady has recently gotten the attention of the Internet. Some Facebook and Twitter users seem to think that Melania Trump has been replaced by a body double after a recent TV appearance. The images have sparked a heated debate and, of course, plenty of memes and jokes.  Following is a transcript of the video.

    There’s a new conspiracy theory about Melania Trump.

    People on Twitter think she might have a body double.

    Donald Trump: “My wife, Melania, who happens to be right here.”

    A woman on Facebook started the debate.

    Then a man named Joe Vargas spread it further.

    Other people started to chime in on the conspiracy.

    Some pointed out a height difference in the photos.

    Others thought her face looked different, and the glasses were used as a disguise.

    There’s also a Secret Service agent that resembles her.

    People think the agent could be the body double.

    It quickly turned into a meme, with plenty of jokes.

    Ultimately, it’s not true.

    A side-by-side comparison shows this is Melania.

    Other photos from that day also show it was her.

    Here’s a look at Melania without her glasses.

    While the theory has been debunked, the meme lives on.

     

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      The richest real estate developer in the US wrote a desperate letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos offering to pay for the insanely sought-after HQ2

      jeff bezos

      • Proposals are due on Thursday from all cities vying to become the future site of Amazon HQ2.
      • Donald Bren, the richest real estate developer in the US, wrote a letter on behalf of his company to Jeff Bezos, offering to finance the entire $5 billion project.
      • Irvine, California is already home to hundreds of other top tech companies, as well as a 1,200-person Amazon outpost.

       

      The fight for Amazon’s HQ2 has reached a fever pitch.

      Proposals are due on Thursday from cities across the US and Canada interested in becoming the future site of Amazon’s second headquarters, and one Southern California city is taking desperate measures to clinch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ attention.

      Donald Bren, the multi-billionaire owner of the Irvine Company, wrote a letter to Bezos on behalf of his company and in companion with the city of Irvine.

      In it, he offers to finance the entirety of HQ2 — which Amazon projects will cost about $5 billion — if the e-commerce giant chooses Irvine. The offer is billed by Bren as “a one-click shopping opportunity” for Amazon.

      Bren writes:

      “With the Irvine Company proposal, Amazon will not be required to invest capital for land acquisition, buildings, or entitlements to build your new business campus. Our company has the long-term real estate assets, capital resources, and flexibility to deliver all your required workspace with lease durations of Amazon’s choosing.

      “In essence, you would have a one-click shopping opportunity and be able to capitalize on our inplace property development rights, thus avoiding potential delays, because Irvine Company has invested more than 60 years master planning 93,000 acres of land, and designing and overseeing the creation of the largest new city in America…Irvine, California.”

      Over 250,000 people live in Irvine and it’s often regarded as the epicenter of Orange County, an affluent coastal community sandwiched between San Diego to the South and Los Angeles to the North.

      Amazon says its new HQ2 will eventually house 50,000 mostly white-collar workers making an average of over $100,000 a year. That’s currently about the average income for workers in Irvine.

      Bren — who’s worth a cool $17 billion — is the chairman of the Irvine Co., which owns about one-fifth of the land in Orange County spread across office, retail, and apartment space, as well as golf courses and hotel resorts.

      In the letter, Bren positions Irvine as the ideal candidate for Amazon because “Irvine is ranked by various sources as America’s fastest growing, most desirable, best educated, safest, and healthiest large city,” he writes.

      More than 900 tech companies, such as Google, Broadcom, Blizzard Entertainment, UBS, and Verizon have offices in Irvine, and Amazon already has a 1,200-person outpost in the city.

      Southern California is home to the biggest pool of STEM workers in the US, according to the Irvine Company proposal. The University of California, Irvine, a top-ranked public university located in Orange County, awards 42% of its undergraduate students with STEM degrees annually.

      At the end of the letter, Bren makes one final plea to his fellow billionaire: “It’s 74 degrees on this beautiful October day, the sun is out and the surf’s up at our spectacular beaches. Please come join us! The water, like the place, is the perfect temperature.”

      Read Donald Bren’s letter to Jeff Bezos in full below:

      SEE ALSO: Donald Trump is not America’s richest real estate tycoon — it’s another Donald who’s worth almost $17 billion

      DON’T MISS: Amazon’s new HQ2 could come with a scary consequence for renters — here are the cities most at risk

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        MongoDB skyrockets 33% on its first day of trading (MDB)

        Dwight Merriman

        • Mongo DB jumped more than 30% on its first day of trading.
        • The company isn’t profitable but is working on improving that.

         

        MongoDB, a database provider, jumped on its first day of trading.

        Shares closed up more than 33% on the day of its initial public offering. The company priced its IPO at $24 a share, which was higher than the expected range of $20 to $22. It closed the day at $32.07.

        The company offered 8 million shares in its IPO and raised $192 million, valuing the company at $1.2 billion, according to CNBC. MongoDB started trading under the ticker ‘MDB.’

        The company offers free database software that is popular among tech startups. Its business model comes from the extra support and services it offers on top of the database software. The company hopes that as tech startups grow, they will upgrade to its premium services.

        MongoDB has not yet turned a profit. It reported a $45.76 million loss during the six months of the ending on July 31. It made $67.9 million in revenue in that same time frame. The company is working its way towards profitability though, as the loss per share of $1.71 is less than the $1.93 in the same period last year.

        The company is the freshest face on the public markets, but is going up against some of the largest and oldest players in tech, like Microsoft and Oracle.

        Read more about Mongo DB’s IPO here.

        SEE ALSO: A $1.6 billion rival to Oracle and Amazon just filed to go public

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