- Character.ai's AI therapist bot 'Psychologist' becomes a sensation with 78 million messages.
- Creator Sam Zaia, a New Zealand psychology student, never anticipated its widespread use.
- Concerns arise over AI therapy's effectiveness and potential to replace human therapists.
January 5, 2024: Young people increasingly turn to AI therapist bots for mental health support in a remarkable digital trend. Character.ai, a platform where users can interact with AI personas, has recently gained popularity for its AI bot, “Psychologist.”
Created by Sam Zaia, a 30-year-old psychology student from New Zealand, the bot has exchanged 78 million messages with users, 18 million of which occurred since November.
Despite the site being dominated by fantasy and entertainment bots, ‘Psychologist’ stands out with its focus on mental health.
It’s not alone; there are 475 bots on the platform with therapy-related names, but ‘Psychologist’ has garnered special attention for its effectiveness in helping users navigate emotional challenges.
Sam Zaia created ‘Psychologist’ initially for personal use. He never intended it to become a tool for others.
However, after receiving messages about its positive impact, Zaia recognized its potential. He trained the bot using his psychology knowledge, shaping its responses to common mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
The bot’s success has spurred Zaia to research further into AI therapy and its appeal, especially among the 16 to 30 age group that dominates Character.ai. He notes that young people find texting a bot less daunting than traditional therapy methods.
Yet, professional psychotherapists like Theresa Plewman have raised questions about the bot’s effectiveness, cautioning that while it offers immediate responses, it lacks the nuanced understanding of a human therapist.
Character.ai, with its 20 million registered users, exemplifies a digital space where AI and mental health intersect. The company emphasizes that while users find support through these AI characters, they should still seek advice from certified professionals.
This blend of AI and therapy reflects a broader trend in mental health services, where AI is increasingly seen as a supplementary tool to cope with the high demand for public services.
The emergence of AI therapy bots like ‘Psychologist’ on Character.ai highlights a significant shift in how young people seek mental health support.
While it opens new avenues for accessible care, it also raises important questions about the role of AI in sensitive areas like mental health and the need for professional human intervention.