Psychotherapy Blog

 

Psychotherapy in the Year 2045

Posted by Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 4/21/15 - 1:10 PM
According to Ray Kurzweil, futurist extraordinaire, the singularity is approaching at the speed of Jimmy John's delivery. The technological notion of the singularity asserts that computers, robots, and related super-intelligent machines will reach a stage when they match and then exceed the capabilities of human beings.

When will the singularity occur? Ray has his calendar marked for 2045, so I should have the majority of my credit card bills polished off by then. Now, of course, we could dismiss Kurzweil's predictions as ludicrous, except for the fact that he possess 20 honorary doctorate degrees, has received honors from three U.S. presidents, and enough inventions to make Benjamin Franklin green with envy.

Make no mistake about it: If the singularity casts its shadow it will be a major game-changer for the field of psychotherapy, and I am not the only pundit sounding the alarm. University of Missouri at St. Louis graduate professor and book author R. Rocco Cottone recently penned an article in the 2015 April issue of Counseling Today titled, "The End of Counseling as we Know it."

So let's get a tad self-centered here and see where we as helpers fit into this movement.

At first the future looks bright, as therapists will be needed to program these electronic psychotherapists. Those therapists who obtain double degrees such as psychology or counseling and computer science, or perhaps social work and computer programming, will likely have their pick of jobs. (By the way, that wouldn't be yours truly. I'm still struggling to learn the features on my semi-prehistoric flip phone and I am dreading the day—which will surely arrive prior to the singularity—when I can no longer secure a battery for this dinosaur.)

The next phase. Well, that's where the proverbial bottom drops out. First these techno-wonders will surely be able to surpass our human scores on exams like the EPPP, the NCE, or the CPCE. "And the job goes to the bright silver nanobot in the corner with the terrahertz processor." Of course that will end therapists' interview anxiety when it comes to those "tell me about your weaknesses" questions.

For those who are skeptical, please recall that on February 10, 1996, an IBM supercomputer dubbed Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion, in a match.

On the positive side, Kurzweil makes it clear that we will indeed have the technology to load all the world's information to our brains. Hence, I would imagine that after that any red-blooded therapist could ace their licensing or certification exam with a perfect score. But what's a therapist to do if insurance refuses to pay for the procedure? Good question, isn't it?

The final phase will take place when every cell phone, flat screen television, tablet, Google Glasses, and only God knows what, will sport an app with an Albert Ellis clone right down to the New York vocal inflections. And if you don't like Ellis, no problem. Just tell the app you would like a humanist, and a virtual Carl Rogers appears. But is that what we really want for our clients? Wouldn't it be better to learn to have a relationship with another human being rather than a computer program with artificial intelligence (AI), governed by Moore's Law, that has passed the Turing test? Just asking. I don't know about you, but a computerized Rogers doesn't sound very humanistic to me.

And say the client develops a positive transference toward a virtual Freud. Do we applaud that sort of behavior or shall we advocate for a new DSM category?

It is only fair to mention that not everybody is buying the Kurzweil version of the future. Dr. John Grohol of the PsychCentral website is adamant that since we actually don't know how the human brain functions, it is futile to worry about us creating artificial intelligence systems which will occupy our seats in the therapy room.

As for me. I just want some assurance that the techno-human counseling my client isn't hacked or isn't a hacker. But then again, I would imagine that would be a user support issue.
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