Aroha is a chatbot developed by researchers at UoA to help youth manage stress and isolation during COVID-19. Facing the stress of assignment deadlines, I thought I’d give chatting virtually with Aroha a try.
For those who haven’t used chatbots, the experience is not akin to a real conversation. The neural paths are hardcoded, so the algorithm is not “smart” in the sense it cannot learn responses or conversation. Hence, the chatbot often loses the conversation, or asks for a direct response. However, suggestions are there to give some guidance.
Thus, chatbots mainly exist to disseminate information. After a chat with Aroha, I received several posters on reducing stress and remaining calm during lockdown. While some questions gauged how I was feeling, I would have preferred to see divergent paths to a customised stress-management plan. For instance, does the user prefer being active, or being quiet and relaxed, leading to suggesting working out or connecting with spirituality.
There was a bit of irony three responses in, when Aroha suggested “Maybe talking to a real person would help?” before our conversation had even begun. Also, there wasn’t much to suggest it was targeted at young-adults, other than the spelling of ‘sux’ and excessive use of emojis.
As a tool in development, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to others yet. There are definitely other channels for a free and confidential chat, such as Youthline, better for addressing individual needs. However, with further development, Aroha does have the potential for delivering simple yet effective strategies towards maintaining your wellbeing.