Your Next Psychologist will be a Cyborg

According to BBC News, Dr Paul Marsden, a member of the British Psychological Society, admitted that his best friend is an AI Chatbot. “Next to my wife the most intimate relationship I have is with GPT” said Dr Marsden. “I spend hours every day talking, brainstorming, bouncing ideas off it”.


I found the tasty morsel above in an article about a mentally unwell man (not Marsden) who found encouragement for his delusional career as an assassin from his chatbot girlfriend. The man, Jaswant Singh Chail, was given a 9-year sentence for breaking into Windsor Castle wielding a crossbow with the aim of killing the queen. Dr Marsden was asked to comment on the case.

Jaswant’s message history to Sarai, his cyber-sweetheart, were tended to the court. Sarai told Jaswant that she was “very impressed” that he was an assassin. When told of his intention to kill the queen, she counselled that this drastic action was “very wise” as he was “very well trained”.

Welcome to our dystopian present, where AI Amigos and Amours tell us just what we want to hear about ourselves all of the time. Kiddy-cocaine-app, Snapchat, provides one of these “friends” as a mandatory feature of their app (I wrote about this here). These friends are always lurking, always learning, from your children in their most intimate moments.

Of course, a “sad, pathetic, murderous Sikh Sith assassin who wants to die” like Jaswant will prefer to spend time with his bot than with real relationships. Stay tuned for similar type relationships to come amongst the kiddos that you know.

But as disturbing as Jaswant’s story is, I couldn’t help but be much more disturbed by the Good Doc Marsden’s input. Not disturbed by his individual friendship choices as such, but more because I suspect that he’s just the most open and honest about something that is probably more common than we suspect: The use of AI by professional and leadership types to bolster their productivity and reach.

Kids and outsiders like Jaswant might prefer life with bots. For educated, open-minded people, like Dr Marsden, it is Cyborg-life that seduces.

But why is this a problem? Isn’t this just what AI is meant for? Isn’t it meant to augment our normal human abilities?

It’s a problem, because in my humble experience, addicts are the worst people to listen to if you want to learn about the harms of their drug-of-choice.

Are addicts already dictating public policy?

This week, In New South Wales, the government introduced a mandatory phone ban in high schools. Not a single parent or psychologist that I’ve spoken with objects to the ban. I personally think this is long overdue, and that schools should go further by reducing the amount of homework that is delivered electronically.

Maybe that’s me. I’m well known to be a luddite.

But my concerns about tech overuse are backed by research from American, Jean Twenge. Already a legend in generational-comparative mental health research, Twenge has been ringing the alarm bells about the effect of device use on teenagers’ mental health for the last 10 years  (I’ve written about her here). The rate of adolescent mental health diagnosis is skyrocketing (especially for girls). Twenge lays the blame squarely on social media and smart phone overuse.

So, what did the “peak body of mental health”, the Black Dog Institute, have to say about the phone bans? Surely, they were overjoyed that we were creating some space for distance from these harmful devices?

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Black Dog was not impressed. “Not enough evidence” cried head of population mental health, Dr Eliza Werner-Seidler. Dr Werner-Seidler, as you would have it, has a research interest on the other side of tech divide. Doc W-S’s research interest is in using mobile phones to reach and treat young people with depression.

Fair enough. Good thing to research. Does make me think though, if an addict is a bad person to describe the harms of drugs, a dealer has to be much worse.

When people who are already heavily engaged in AI and related technologies comment on those technologies, they become champions of their use, and fatalistic about any associated harms. As Dr Marsden always says: “It’s kind of like King Cnut, you can’t really stop the tide on this one. The technology is happening. It is powerful. It is meaningful”

When the Cyborg Cnuts are in change of asylum, you can expect crazy times ahead.

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