As the floodwaters start to recede from the onslaught of hurricanes, as the fires burn out in California leaving charred remains, as the families of victims of the Las Vegas shooter try to piece together their lives, those affected by the disasters are coming to terms with what they have lost. This has a drastic direct effect on people’s mental health. When the ones that are affected are children, the effect is even more cataclysmic.
Building Resilient Minds
Astoundingly, Kenneth Bibbins, the CEO of PrepBiz, has discovered a way to help prepare a child’s mind for trauma, to make it more resilient in the face of disasters. When I first met Kenneth, he asked that I host a Design Thinking workshop to flesh out the design for a videogame that would help prepare children for a wide spectrum of disasters. In the first meeting I learned that as a Clinical Physiologist and Disaster Subject Matter Expert (SME) Kenneth has a wealth of experience in disasters, emergencies, hazards, their aftermath, and trauma. He had also been a key member in several of New Orleans recovery teams after disaster incidents. He provided firsthand experience to the federal government’s liaison team when he assisted over 40,000 citizens return to New Orleans post hurricane Katrina. Listening to Kenneth speak about his vision, it reminded me of martial arts coaches training me to have ‘muscle memory’. The more you can simulate situations, the more you can form neural pathways to train your mind to be more agile under great stress.
Child Personas craved Personalization and Understanding
In this design thinking session we first addressed the child personas that are in effect the target audience for the game. Through this exercise we had a realization that certain key personas had a very real desire to have an experience that was maximally personalized for them- a game that in essence would really empathize with their own situation. They did not want a ‘hardcoded game’ that was the same for everyone.
It was through this realization that we first considered an empathetic conversation bot as the core IP for his game.
An Empathetic Conversation Bot
An Empathy bot is a chatbot that uses AI as a means to mine sentiment from end users. One can then take that data along with other data (like age analysis, image recognition, IOT data) and curate an experience that is highly customized – one that might even encourage behavior modification.
Imagine a child of 9 with the empathy bot installed on their mobile device, telling their bot in a querulous tone that she is afraid of fire. She uses her phone to scan her room. The bot guesses her age, analyzes her emotion, and now knows where the exits are in her room. This knowledge can then be used to power a game just for her. The power of such technology to help train someone personally such that they do not freeze in fear is game changing.
Chatbots for Good Course
Inspired by Kenneth Bibbins’ vision, IBM has just released a course called ‘ChatBots for Good’ for high school kids teaching them how to build an empathy bot and introducing them to design thinking, just as I did with Kenneth Bibbins. It is a global, free course that is offered online for anyone to use.
Watch the video introducing the course, its challenge, and the PrepBiz story.
We cannot wait to see what kind of empathy bots high school children will build. What might they tackle? A bot that help you deal with a bully? A bot that helps you navigate a break-up?
Training the Empathy Bot
Today, Kenneth is training his empathy bot using crowd-sourced dialogue from high school students at Connally High School, a high school in Texas. This is the same classroom lead by pioneering teacher David Conover that developed Medical Minecraft.
Kenneth is working with Not Rocket Science, an IBM Business partner, in New Orleans to develop the MVP for his game.
Working with Kenneth has been such a real pleasure for me personally. This is a pivotal example of how technology, when used correctly, has the power to help train people’s minds to build a mental resilience and even manage stress in the face of great crises.
Phaedra Boinodiris is the senior lead for IBM’s new EdTech program influencing curriculum in traditional and non-traditional learning spaces through entrepreneurship and social impact. Since the start of her career at IBM she has been a Developer Advocate and IBM’s global lead for serious games and gamification. She is also the author of Serious Games for Business, published in 2014 by Megan-Kiffer press. Boinodiris’ earlier work in serious games are being used in over 1000 schools worldwide to teach students the fundamentals of business optimization. Boinodiris was honored by Women in Games International as one of the top 100 women in the games industry. Prior to working at IBM, she was a serial entrepreneur for 14 years where she co-founded WomenGamers.Com, a popular women’s gaming portal. There she subsequently started the first scholarship for women to pursue degrees in game design and development in the US. In November of 2015, Boinodiris was elected as a member of IBM’s Academy of Technology and has 6 patents in the gaming space. Boinodiris happily mentors business school students at her alma-mater UNC-Chapel Hill.