How well do we really want AI to know our minds?

AI is enabling healthcare workers to understand people’s moods with a level of accuracy that may be as unnerving as it is exciting.

It’s undeniably positive when technology can warn a nurse of a loved one’s impending but secret suicide attempt. But would you want a stranger working with a high-tech tool to get deeper inside your head than you can go yourself?

New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks takes up the quandary in a piece posted Monday.

“When people suffering from depression speak, the range and pitch of their voice tends to be lower,” Brooks writes. “There are more pauses, starts and stops between words. People whose voice has a breathy quality are more likely to reattempt suicide. Machines can detect this stuff better than humans.”

Computers can also pick up body-language cues to depression that people wouldn’t recognize—everything from heads moving less than usual to smiles falling faster into poker faces.

“The upshot is that we are entering a world in which people we don’t know will be able to understand the most intimate details of our emotional life by observing the ways we communicate,” Brooks warns. “You can imagine how problematic this could be if the information gets used by employers or the state.”

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