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Accepted Paper:

Designing AI for mental health: trajectories, assumptions and practices of humans behind mental health apps in India  
Claudia Lang (University of Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on humans behind an Indian chatbot-based mental health app. I trace the trajectories of designers, programmers and psychologists, carve out their techno-optimism, socio-technical imaginaries and moral-economic aspirations, and describe sociotechnical becomings.

Paper long abstract:

The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated disruption of everyday lives have not only exacerbated a global mental health crisis but also led to new opportunities and markets for AI-based mental health (self-) care tools. Mental health apps act as “band-aid” solutions for people who struggle to manage their everyday lives, helping them to live with stress or overcome emotional challenges. Their designers and programmers make multiple assumptions about wellbeing, human-techno-relations, and the contexts or the forms of life in which these aids are put to use. Using the case of an Indian-developed chatbot-based mental health app, this paper focuses on humans behind AI. Based on fieldwork and interviews with the app’s designers, programmers and psychologists, most of them female, in a start-up of Bangalore, I first trace their trajectories and carve out their techno-optimism, socio-technical imaginaries and moral-economic aspirations. What are the therapeutic approaches and assumptions about human suffering behavior and agency that they inscribe into the app? How do universalism, particularity and India as a location matter for a well-known app that targets users globally? Next, I delineate processes of ‘sociotechnical becoming’ through joyful experimentation, tinkering and affective work as programmers and psychologists engage in rewriting codes and contents. These processes reveal design and care as distributed amongst engineers, psychologists, users and algorithms. By bringing the assumptions, values, practices and social relations of AI-designers to the fore, I show how deeply the social is inscribed into AI-based health technologies, which, I argue, can be both problematic and an asset.

Panel P17a
Addressing the Humans behind AI and Robotics
  Session 1 Monday 6 June, 2022, -