Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Robot therapy? Fuck that.

Yesterday, NPR reported on a joint project from USC's Institute for Creative Technologies.  Psychologist Albert "Skip" Rizzo and computer scientist Louis-Philippe Morency have created a robot therapist. According to the article,
"'Everything has been thought of,' says Morency. For example, when patients talk, Ellie encourages them to continue talking with a well timed 'uh-huh,' just as real people do. 'We have recorded more than 200 of these uh-huhs,' Morency says, 'and these are so powerful.'"
Wow, well I guess they did think of everything, since therapy can seemingly be boiled down to a series of well-timed uh-huhs. And here I was listening, trying to understand, and trying to apply stupid things like wisdom. I wish I knew this when I started my blog. They continue,
"Because a simple 'uh-huh' and a silence — if they are done the right way — can be extremely powerful. So we spent a lot of time on these little details."
Uh-huh. I think it's more like "the robot has no idea what you're saying, so all it can say is uh-huh."  The robots main feature isn't its intensely healing uh-huhs, though. It's loaded with sensors of all sorts.
"Under the wide screen where Ellie's image sits, there are three devices. A video camera tracks facial expressions of the person sitting opposite. A movement sensor — Microsoft Kinect — tracks the person's gestures, fidgeting and other movements. A microphone records every inflection and tone in his or her voice. The point, Rizzo explains, is to analyze in almost microscopic detail the way people talk and move — to read their body language."
Oh that makes me much more comfortable. So the robot is like a hyper-scrutinizing therapist, measuring and analyzing everything about you, even things you're not aware of yourself. That's a little freaky to me, like getting therapy from a Terminator. Jeez. This is a screenshot from the Institute...

But all I (and my Photoshop) could see was this:

Now, to be fair, I think this could be interesting and useful for some diagnostic purposes. It could help people diagnose things like anxiety or maybe depression. (Realistically, I bet it'll be adapted for espionage and interrogations.) But is it really a substitute for a therapist? Hell no. But I'm not sure people, and maybe more so academics, really appreciate that fact.

I've lamented America's obsession with standarization, automation, and commercialization before. It all goes back to the assembly line at Ford Motor Company at the turn of the 20th century. Ford realized he could automate the manufacturing of cars and produce more, faster. In the 1950s McDonalds followed suit by dividing the kitchen into work stations. America fell in love with the concept of mass production because it was a great vehicle for making money. Marketers got smarter, and the industry figured out how to get us addicted to their products. The consumer was born...and exploited. We've commodified (turned into a commodity) nearly everything: education, art, food, health care, and now, therapy.

The urge to commodify therapy is surely related to the broader commodification of health care, where insurance companies have tried to standardize and minimize treatment in order to maximize profits. Therapy sessions were limited, and superimposed with a rigid structure, much like an assembly line. The first two sessions are for building rapport and gathering information; the next session is for diagnosis; then interventions, follow up, and kick em out the fucking door. It's a travesty, and it's not how healing really happens. Forget the fact that there's no way you can really understand a problem in 2 one-hour sessions, or that diagnoses--which are highly stigmatizing--are usually corrected after 7 or 8 sessions. The automation of therapy leaves no room for a therapist's humanity...the connection, understanding, forgiveness, and compassion that open the door for healing.

The researchers at the Institute for Creative Technologies have taken the mindless worship of industrialization to an extreme, by literally removing the human from therapy. They recklessly disseminate the idea that therapy, like education or medicine, can be boiled down to formulas and algorithmic. It's a wildly dangerous notion that, without correction, will quickly devour this ancient healing art, in the same way its devoured our education system.

Questions? AskEdahn@Gmail.com. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One Question that will Forever Change Your Life

Not the actual question, but a good one.
Here at AskEdahn, we (okay, I) like to serve you great (okay, mediocre) content in small, digestible portions that you can grab and go because I understand that you're busy (surfing the internet) and that electronics have reduced your attention span down to the size of a fruit fly (infant fruit fly, to be exact).

In fact, you probably stopped reading the paragraph midway through. No worries. There are probably lots of questions that have changed people's lives, questions like "who am I?" or "who's making the world just?" or "shouldn't this swelling have receded by now?" Questions are very beautiful things. They seek out minds and ideas to dance with and mate with, creating new ideas. "How can we fix the healthcare system?" is a great example. With just a little intonation and clever syntax, the listener conjures a universe of ideas and sorts them into novel arrangements. Tell me that's not beautiful.

Well, I digress a little, because digressions can sometimes be more interesting than the main road. The question that will change your life forever...ready?

What's happening right now?

Before you cancel your subscription to AskEdahn (that doesn't exist), let me explain. What's happening right now is an interesting question because unlike other questions, it has infinite depth. Think about that for a second: infinite depth. That's a shitload of depth. You can ask that question and keep getting different answers.

You're sitting in a cafe, like I am right now, and you ask yourself what's happening right now? On a superficial layer, people are working, chatting. On another layer, you're sitting here, breathing, being. On another layer, people are absorbed in their stuff--electronics, worries...minds. On yet another layer, you're thinking. And on another level, things just happening, changing. Words fade away because they're just mind-made labels, not actual things. Ask yourself this question when you're upset, and you find a whole new world of phenomena to study, most of which is unfolding in your body. It's amazing.

What's happening right now is the gateway to true knowledge, which is knowledge you gain through experience. It's also the gateway to responsibility and wisdom, which is the only way we can lead virtuous, good lives. It's the gateway to our evolution.

So...what's happening right now?

Friday, May 3, 2013

How do I get my friend to stop calling me all the time?

Hi there

How r u? I have a quick ? - i've got a new friend and she is cool but she calls me like 5 times a day and sometimes talks for like an hr I want to keep her as a friend but cut the conversations to ever other day and 30 min tops How do i do that? (when i let her calls go to voicemail and don't call her back she says she's worried and i need to call her back :( plus she calls again and again Please, help She's really cook otherwise


THANKS FOR TAKING THE enormous time to text in your question. 

Here're some options:

1. Every time she calls, keep shifting the conversation to the competitive deals being offered by Allstate. "That's funny you mentioned that your boyfriend dumped you, because I don't think he was insured by Allstate, was he?"

2. Next time she says she's worried about you, tell her not to worry because the ER doctor said the surgery was mostly successful. Also, your new penis should be working any day now.

3. Every time she calls, send her a text that says "om gg hlppp" or "maskd men;; locaton unknw" or "need liam neeson asap". This can only end if she leaves this speech on your voicemail.

4. Start calling her every 20 minutes to ask her stupid questions like "what time is it?" and "have you heard about Allstate's great insurance rates?" The second one will be a stupid question because you already told her about Allstate's great insurance rates, right?

5. Hire a customer service representative to field all of her calls. Better yet, set up an elaborate and ultimately closed-loop phone tree that tries to figure out what she wants to talk about with you. Example: "Thank you for calling [your name]. Para Espanol, oprima numero dos. To better assist you with your call, please answer the following numbers with your touchtone keypad. To bitch about your most recent date, press 1. To complain about your supervisor, press 2. To discuss Allstate's amazing new insurance plans, press 3." Whatever she presses, make sure it goes to 3.

6. This one's a little more elaborate. Call a professional auctioneer. Ask him to help you set up an auction. (Find out if he takes a percentage or flat rate; it's important.) Sell everything you have, including any real estate. Go to Google Maps and find the nearest mountain range with a fresh water source nearby (river, lake). Learn to hunt. Buy a water purification kit. Learn to build a cabin. Buy cabin building supplies (screwdriver, hammer, maybe some nails or glue, I'm not really sure). Move to the wilderness with bare essentials. Make sure to take extra socks. Build the cabin and paint your face as part of your hunting ritual. Master your environment. Examine your life, its meaning, and your essential nature. Explore your most primal self. Get connected to the animals, the Earth, and Universe. Unravel the mysteries of God. Call friend and tell her you have no reception where you are. 

Hope this helps!

Got a question? Email AskEdahn@Gmail.com. If you liked this post, share it, okay?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

When dating, how do I show my affection for someone?

Not like this.
Dearest Edahn,

When dating, how do I show my affection for someone?

HOW DO YOU KNOW someone feels affectionately about you? When someone really feels something for you, you can tell by their body language. Their eyes look a little softer. Their posture looks relaxed. Their movements are slow, but not annoyingly slow, and their voice is soft and relax. What's happening is that their mind is calm, and their body is mirroring their mind. The content of their speech (as opposed to just tone) also shifts: they become accepting and peace-seeking, rather than conflict-seeking. They're also much more open to connect to you--intellectually and emotionally--without being clingy or fake. That's the profile of someone who feels genuine care.

That description is universal because our biology and basic psychological architecture is universal. Meaning, that's how you show your affection too.

If that's confusing to you or seems like it's not resonating with you, then I'm going to take a guess that you're struggling with a lot of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness in relationships is like the guy who invites himself over to sleep on your couch and ends up staying for 3 months. He's a frequent, uninvited guest. If you're feeling a little tense or stuck in your mind or frozen, you're dealing with that uninvited guest.

The best antidote to self-consciousness is catastrophe. Before you go joining a bereavement group, let me explain. When I was in law school, I had an interview with a semi-high profile law firm in Los Angeles. I was worried as hell that I was going to fuck it up because I get extremely self-conscious in interviews. (Just to give you an example, in one interview I asked the law firm partners if they had any moral objections to working in a firm. Yes, this is while I was trying to get the job. The silence that ensued was so intense I could hear the ants gasping in horror.) Anyhow, I ended up running late for the interview and on top of that forgot my resume at home. I walk into the waiting room saying SHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT to myself. And then something weird happens. I start laughing because...well, because everything was so utterly fucked already, I had no control anymore. There was nothing I could really do. The need to control was gone. I couldn't control what they thought of me, how I appeared, and whether I was going to get this job, because I knew I wasn't. And that relief turned into joy.

That was the best interview of my life. I was funny, engaging, intelligent, and charming. (Which, coincidentally, are psychopathic traits, but that's another story.) And they actually offered me the job. 

Most people approach self-consciousness and anxiety by trying to control it, which is a big mistake because that's self-consciousness's best weapon. It's like a ninja challenging an NRA member to a gunfight. The gun person is going to win because guns are his domain.* People function much better when they aren't over-thinking, over-analyzing, and trying to control everything. That's our domain, and catastrophe is the fastest route to it.

So, if you find yourself over-thinking, think about how badly you want things to change, and then think about how wanting things to change will never help you, because that's the same thing that's making you self-conscious in the first place--the need to control everything. Then, when you realize that you're absolutely fucked and that you really have no available moves left, like me in my interview, you'll have to choice but to give up, laugh and be your natural self, with your natural affection pouring through.

Got a question? Email AskEdahn@Gmail.com. If you liked this, please share it with your friends, if you have any. ;)

*FALSE. Ninjas always win. /Dwight Shrute voice