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Claudia Lang: Machine Learning to Care: Imagining, Encoding, and Experiencing Automated Therapy in India

04. März 2024 

Forth meet­ing in the 2023–2024 EASA Med­ical Anthro­pol­o­gy Europe Sem­i­nar Series, online

Online Lec­ture: „Machine Learn­ing to Care: Imag­in­ing, Encod­ing, and Expe­ri­enc­ing Auto­mat­ed Ther­a­py in India”
By Clau­dia Lang Tufts (Uni­ver­si­ty)
7th of March, at 4:30 pm CET on Zoom

Reg­is­ter here to attend

A grow­ing dig­i­tal men­tal health mar­ket is char­ac­ter­ized by tech­no-utopi­an imag­i­nar­ies to trans­form or even rein­vent care through dig­i­ti­za­tion and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI). Pro­po­nents cel­e­brate dig­i­tal ther­a­py as a scal­able and cost-effec­tive solu­tion to miss­ing or inad­e­quate infra­struc­tures and glob­al­ly increas­ing demand for men­tal health care, fur­ther accel­er­at­ed by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. Crit­ics crit­i­cize tech­no-reduc­tion­ism and wor­ry about dehu­man­iza­tion and sur­veil­lance. In this arti­cle, I offer a more nuanced and com­plex pic­ture as a cor­rec­tive to these polar­ized debates, by ethno­graph­i­cal­ly exam­in­ing a dig­i­tal men­tal health app’s becoming.
Using the case of Wysa, I aim to under­stand how design­ers imag­ine the app to help peo­ple deal with men­tal chal­lenges, how they encode these assump­tions into the app, and how users expe­ri­ence and respond to Wysa. Design­ers and users imag­ine the app’s achieve­ments and fail­ures in terms of agency, and these imag­i­nar­ies are ambigu­ous. Although design­ers try to encode empa­thet­ic lis­ten­ing into the chat­bot, users do not nec­es­sar­i­ly or always expe­ri­ence it that way, and there are dis­tor­tions and frus­tra­tions in many cas­es. Design­ers, how­ev­er, do not see this as fail­ure but rather as valu­able feed­back in the process of “fail­ing forward”.

Clau­dia Lang (Ph.D., PD, Social and Cul­tur­al Anthro­pol­o­gy) holds a Heisen­berg posi­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leipzig and is a research asso­ciate at the Max-Planck-Insti­tute for Social Anthro­pol­o­gy in Halle. She is cur­rent­ly a vis­it­ing schol­ar at Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, Boston. Ear­li­er she was an ERC-fund­ed post­doc­tor­al fel­low with GLOBHEALTH at the Cermes3 in Paris and held aca­d­e­m­ic posi­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Munich, Mün­ster and Leipzig. Her cur­rent research focus­es on the recon­fig­u­ra­tion of men­tal health and care through dig­i­ti­za­tion in India and beyond, espe­cial­ly AI ther­a­py. Oth­er research areas include glob­al health, depres­sion, Ayurve­da, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and eco­log­i­cal grief in late indus­tri­al India. Her region­al focus is South Asia. She is the author of Depres­sion in Ker­ala. Ayurve­da and men­tal health care in the 21st cen­tu­ry (Rout­ledge), and a co-author of Glob­al Health for All: Knowl­edge, Pol­i­tics, and Prac­tices (Rut­gers) as well as of The Move­ment for Glob­al Men­tal Health: Crit­i­cal Views from South and South­east Asia” (Ams­ter­dam Uni­ver­si­ty Press).