“Ellie” is the name scientists at USC have given to a combination of hardware and software that together presents patients with a highly realistic virtual therapist. While her rendered image appears on the screen, three devices track and record the patient’s words, tone, facial movements, and gestures: 60 unique biometric features in all. She then responds based on the accumulated data, and it’s a lot of data; together the devices can record about 1800 measurements a minute. After each session, she produces a detailed report that human therapists can study for more information.
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What’s the Big Idea?
Ellie was originally developed to help the US military address the growing number of suicides among its ranks after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Co-creator Albert “Skip” Rizzo says, “[People have] their true self and the self that they want to project to the world. And we know that the body displays things that sometimes people try to keep contained….What computers [like Ellie] offer is the ability to look at massive amounts of data and begin to look at patterns, and that, I think, far outstrips the mere mortal brain.” Ellie will begin tests with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans this summer.