Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Mood-tracking apps work … sort of

by Rob - November 9th, 2010.
Filed under: Consciousness, Science.

Interesting article here about a little app that helps you monitor your mood. As the article says, there’s no sophisticated psychological model at work — but I think that doesn’t really matter.

As a science-fiction writer who often explores artificial intelligence (for instance in Wake, Golden Fleece, and Factoring Humanity), it seems to me the psychology behind this is nothing new. It’s really not much different than the classic chatbot Eliza, but done as a graphical interface. We project onto fairly meaningless responses what we actually want to see.
It’s like the classic conundrum of deciding in advance what price you’re going to accept. Normally, we can’t — until we hear a price named by someone else. Then a whole different set of evaluative neural nets kick in in our brains, figuring out what to make of this input coming from outside; we need an app, or a chatbot, or a placebo, to get us thinking in such ways — and almost ANY such thing will do (which is probably why there is a placebo effect, and why we so often hear claims of the Turing test being passed by truly mindless pieces of software).

So, even if there was a sophisticated psychological paradigm behind this app (and there apparently isn’t) the results probably wouldn’t be much better; its mere existence is enough to trigger the sort of thinking required for evaluation of oneself. Or, to put it in McLuhanesque terms, the medium is the message; the actual content doesn’t much matter at all.

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