Computer Predicts Psychosis Better Than Psychiatrists

An automated speech-analysis program developed by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, New York State Psychiatric Institute, and the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center was able to correctly identify which at-risk patients would develop psychosis and those who would not.


(Who will develop a full-blown psychosis?)

This image shows discrimination between at-risk youths who transitioned to psychosis (red) and those who did not (blue). The polyhedron contains all the at-risk youth who did NOT develop psychosis (blue). All of the at-risk youth who DID later develop psychosis (red) are outside the polyhedron. Thus the speech classifier had 100 percent discrimination or accuracy. The speech classifier consisted of “minimum semantic coherence” (the flow of meaning from one sentence to the next), and indices of reduced complexity of speech, including phrase length and decreased use of “determiner” pronouns (“that,” “what,” “whatever,” “which,” and “whichever”). (credit: Cheryl Corcoran et al./NPJ Schizophrenia/Columbia University Medical Center)

Speech provides a unique window into the mind, giving important clues about what people are thinking and feeling. Participants in the study took part in an open-ended, narrative interview in which they described their subjective experiences. These interviews were transcribed and then analyzed by computer for patterns of speech, including semantics (meaning) and syntax (structure).

The analysis established each patient’s semantic coherence (how well he or she stayed on topic), and syntactic structure, such as phrase length and use of determiner words that link the phrases. A clinical psychiatrist may intuitively recognize these signs of disorganized thoughts in a traditional interview, but a machine can augment what is heard by precisely measuring the variables. The participants were then followed for two and a half years.

The speech features that predicted psychosis onset included breaks in the flow of meaning from one sentence to the next, and speech that was characterized by shorter phrases with less elaboration.

Science fiction fans may one day be divided into the sane and those who might be helped. Fans of Philip K. Dick of course recall Dr. Smile, the time-sharing computer psychologist from his 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch:

And there in the next room by the sofa sat a familiar suitcase, that of his psychiatrist Dr. Smile.

Barefoot, he padded into the living room, and seated himself by the suitcase; he opened it, clicked switches, and turned on Dr. Smile...

The mechanism which was the portable extension of Dr. Smile, connected by micro-relay to the computer itself in the basement level of Barney's own conapt building in New York, the Renown 33, tinnily declared, "Ah, Mr. Bayerson." "Mayerson," Barney corrected...

Via KurzweilAI.

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