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Exploring Untraditional Chatbots: Hey Vivibot

When you think about a chatbot what pops into your head? Do you immediately want to yell “Hey Alexa!” or “Okay Google…”? Or do you think about an app? Maybe you think about those weird customer service chat box windows that pop up when you’re trying to shop. Do you ever think about having an in-depth deep conversation with it? Or ever think it could actually end up helping you?

With Vivibot, the support chatbot that we co-designed with young cancer survivors does just that- offers support and a listening ear 24 hours, seven days a week. The bot functions as a friend/therapist/teacher, by offering positive psychology strategies to deal with all the emotional clutter that comes with surviving cancer. With the help of young adult cancer survivors, we were even able to make the bot sound like a cool teenager, and add interactive videos and prompts to get the user to really think about the ways they could positively shift their mindset. The content in the bot is what makes it magical, but the way the bot works is what propels the possibility of chatbots in the world of chronic illness.

Here at Hopelab, we are extremely transparent with how we co-design products. Personally, the way we build out technology solutions is my favorite thing to write or tell people about. But it’s not like this chatbot fell out of the sky and into our laps either. The technology behind Vivibot was developed in order to meet teens where they already were- on Facebook. By using Facebook Messenger, we were able to target the right population and also grant the accessibility of the product to all people. It’s free and open to everyone to use, though the content is specifically designed for young cancer survivors.

Initially, when you first interact with Vivibot like any conversation, she introduces herself, the features of the bot, and sets you up for success. Vivibot reminds you, most importantly, that she is a robot first- so sometimes she needs buttons to understand you, and she may not work perfectly. She operates through a content management system that uses a combination of buttons- in the form of emojis at times (#hip)- and free response, administered after specific content blocks are introduced. The buttons activate what is like “decision tree-like” conversation, while the free response offers the user the ability to disclose how much or how little they want with the bot. The chats are structured for a brief but thoughtful conversation that focuses on one of seven different positive psychology techniques such as mindfulness, gratitude, and random acts of kindness to name a few. Before diving into the topic of the day, she asks you to describe your mood by using a scale of one through eight and then will launch into the “teaching” component of chatting. Every component of the chat in some way forces self-reflection, even if you only answer the questions concerning your mood. She then will interactively teach you a way to shift your mindset more positively and allow you to really dissect what you are feeling in the present moment. One of the most popular features of the bot is the ability as one user put it “to shout into the void” following the teaching component. Vivibot always allows its user to round out the chat with the ability to vent about anything that is going on in their life at that present moment. It’s a moment where you can really speak about anything and everything that you could be experiencing both positive and negative.

With the initial feedback we are receiving, this chatbot has the potential to reshape the way we think about using traditional chatbots– like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. While we are seeing chatbots being integrated more and more in health care systems and applications, Vivibot is shining a light on the different ways that we can use chatbots to act as support systems. Yes, there will always be concerns when technology takes the role of what has traditionally been a human-centric role. But what we are finding according to user feedback, is that people are REALLY opening up to this bot. The level of disclosure that is accrued in conversations is unexpected but exciting. People feel that they really are in a safe environment when talking to Vivibot- because they are. Because of her robotic state and her ability to remind users she can’t understand what they are saying, it reinforces the mentality that this is a truly non-judgemental tool built with young cancer survivors in mind. Currently, we are rolling out a pilot study to test if Vivibot is having a lasting effect on survivors using it. If this the case, imagine how we could apply this type of systems thinking and technology to those struggling with other chronic diseases. Vivibot may just be a robot, but she is truly changing how we perceive boundaries and help people.The technology behind Vivibot was developed in order to meet teens where they already were- on Facebook. By using Facebook Messenger, we were able to target the right population and also grant the accessibility of the product to all people.

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