Robo-thespians help mothers of kids with cancer

Cartoon figures animated by robotic artificial intelligence can help mothers cope with the stresses associated with caring for a child who has cancer.

In the first clinical trial, 26 mothers of children being treated for malignancies gave "uniformly positive reviews" of the system, called "Carmen's Bright IDEAS," (CBI) developed by the University of Southern California, according to a paper that will be presented at International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education, Sydney, Australia, July 21-24

"We believe this is remarkable," said Lewis Johnson, director of the Center for Advanced Research in Technology for Education (CARTE), which created the
CBI system, working with health professionals at the
USC-affiliated Los Angeles Childrens Hospital and elsewhere.

CBI "is an interactive animated health intervention designed to improve the social problem-solving skills of mothers of pediatric cancer patients" who must balance the needs of their sick child, their well children, their spouses, and their work, according to the paper.

It builds on years of experience by Johnson and colleague Stacy Marsella (who is lead author of the conference presentation) creating software teaching 'bots."

IDEAS is an acronym for to a well-established multi-step problem-solving method for stressed people ('Identify a solvable problem, Develop possible solutions..."). The IDEAS toolkit is usually taught by social workers and counselors using worksheets and other conventional teaching materials.

In CBI, IDEAS are taught by dramas illustrating how the technique works, dramas played out by robotic characters animated by artifical intelligence.

"Carmen" is the name of an animated figure who serves as a surrogate for the mother. She has two children, a sick son and a well daughter, represented by robot thespians. The 'bots present problems in scripted interactions which Carmen then discusses with another 'bot character,

Contact: Eric Mankin
University of Southern California

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