Dr. Timothy Bickmore is a Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston. The focus of his research is on the development and evaluation of embodied conversational agents, virtual and robotic, that emulate face-to-face interactions between health providers and patients, with a particular focus on the emotional and relational aspects of these interactions that serve to establish therapeutic alliance relationships. These agents have been used in automated health education and long-term health behavior change interventions, spanning preventive medicine and wellness promotion, chronic disease management, inpatient care, substance misuse screening and treatment, mental health treatment, and palliative care. His systems have been evaluated in multiple clinical trials with results published in medical journals including JAMA and The Lancet. Prior to Northeastern, Dr. Bickmore served as an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Bickmore received his Ph.D. from MIT, doing his dissertation work in the Media Lab studying interactions between people and embodied conversational agents in task contexts, such as healthcare, in which social-emotional behavior can be used to improve outcomes.
Title: Persuasive Agents in Medicine and Public Health: The Case of COVID-19
Over two million dead and counting. Over 100 million infected. Entire economies and cultures disrupted. The current pandemic provides the most compelling case for persuasive technology that could ever be devised. While ignorance provided kindling for the pandemic, stubbornness and misinformation have kept the wildfire blazing. Health behavior--from mask wearing and social distancing, to behaviors that can prevent or treat psychological distress or substance misuse, to vaccination intent--has played a major role in how the pandemic is managed, and will help determine when it ends and the trajectory of our societal recovery. In this talk I will present a range of persuasive conversational agents that have been used in medicine and public health to promote compliance with recommended healthcare regimens, and discuss how they could be used to help control COVID-19 and help us prepare for the next pandemic. I will also discuss how conversational agents have been shown to be particularly effective at addressing health disparities for underserved populations, and why this is crucially important in pandemic response.