New Artificial Intelligence can Eradicate your Fear

A phobia can be debilitating, it is an irrational or extreme fear of an object or a situation. There are many ways to treat phobias, whether it be medication or taking psychotherapeutic methods like aversion therapy, where patients are desensitised by being gradually exposed to their fear or flooding, a technique which after required training, the patient is immediately exposed to the phobic stimulus. Many people may find this style of treatment unpleasant – but there is an easier way.

A new method using an AI algorithm presents a way to relieve phobias without exposing them to it, at least not literally. It was developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Columbia University, and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. The team’s findings have been published in the journal ‘Nature Human Behaviour’ and according to a Motherboard interview with lead researcher Hakwan Lau, “With this procedure we can condition out the fear.”

A technique called “decoded neurofeedback” reduces fear of a certain thing or event, without ever triggering the actual fear memory itself. First, participants were given small electric shocks when presented with vertical lines to trigger a fear when shown one particular colour. Over time, this coloured line became ‘scary’ and produced a unique brain signature in the participants. These impulses are scanned and recorded using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), this AI visual recognition algorithm identifies any patterns which are associated with the specific colour of the vertical lines.

Once the neural signature of seeing the coloured line was distinguished, over the next few days the researchers would try and use this system to decondition the participants’ fear in response to the coloured line. They did this by using AI image recognition technology to help them recognise when the volunteers’ brain activity had shown signs of fear, in turn they fabricated a positive reward – such as money – in order to ‘over write’ the fear memory.

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The way information is represented in the brain is very complicated, but the use of artificial intelligence (AI) image recognition methods now allow us to identify aspects of the content of that information.
— Ben Seymour of University of Cambridge on Science Daily

At the end of the programming, the participants were once again exposed to the fear inducing vertical coloured lines; the fear once generated from those coloured vertical lines had surprisingly diminished from previous responses to the colour.

This technique could be developed into a a more effective treatment of various fear disorders and similar ailments (like PTSD), so that patients don’t have to suffer the stress of current aversion treatments and any side effects from medication. AI has shown that with a simple algorithm, you can understand the functions of the brain, I fear what will come next.

HealthcareAmna Zaman