It takes a lot of experience and skill to diagnose a psychological disorder. If you're a meager human, that is; computers have learned to do it reliably with nothing but an algorithm and mountains of data.

That's the principle data analytics firm SentiMetrix is putting to use to spot PTSD in soldiers by reading their blogs. Loaded up with a library of PTSD symptoms the SentiMetrix algorithm can scream through blog post upon blog post, searching for references to the kind of distance and jumpiness that are telltale symptoms of PSTD. And while it's certainly not a doctor, the algorithm isn't devoid of a human touch; it was trained in part by perusing a collection of hundreds publicly available, anonymized blog posts, annotated for signs of PTSD by a pair of flesh-and-blood clinical psychologists.

Right now, the SentiMetrix algorithm matches clinicians' opinions about 80 percent of the time, and while that's pretty high, we still want to rely on fleshy meatbags with feelings and thoughts and compassion whenever we can. A possible solution is a sort of therapeutic veteran blog-ring, where consenting soldiers are encouraged to just get it all out on the page (in private if necessary), while a computer watches it all and taps clinicians on the shoulder if it sees something troubling.


Of course spotting PTSD is only the first step. You've also got to treat it, and algorithms are a little less helpful at that stage. And no one wants a replicant therapist. [Huffington Post]

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