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Your Robot Therapist Will See You Now: Ethical Implications of Embodied Artificial Intelligence in Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychotherapy


Research in embodied artificial intelligence (AI) has increasing clinical relevance for therapeutic applications in mental health services, that is, in psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. Innovations range from ‘virtual psychotherapists’ [] to social robots in dementia care and autism disorder [] and robots for sexual disorders []. Increasingly, artificially intelligent virtual and robotic agents are not only available for relatively low-level elements of mental health support, such as comfort or social interaction, but also perform high-level therapeutic interventions that used to be offered exclusively by highly trained, skilled health professionals such as psychotherapists []. Importantly, such ‘virtual’ or ‘robotic therapists’ include an artificially intelligent algorithm that responds independently of any expert human guidance to the client or patient through a virtually embodied presence, such as a face icon, or a physically embodied presence, such as a robotic interface. As such, these emerging applications are distinct from the many varieties of Web-based therapy, which usually involve either a human therapist, albeit remotely (telemedicine), or the patient herself, working independently with manuals, questionnaires, or other self-help materials [].



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