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REVIEW: Jess the therapist woebot offers sage advice

PUBLISHED: 09:52 01 December 2017

The Robot Will See You Now - Jess the robot gets ready for a stint as a therapist woebot

The Robot Will See You Now - Jess the robot gets ready for a stint as a therapist woebot

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The Robot Will See You Now was a slightly depressing example of how a machine can force us to do what we should be doing anyway, says TV Editor Stacia Briggs - talking to each other

The main message that I took from this fascinating progamme about a therapist robot called Jess was that we will soon all have to bow to our mechanical overlords as they systematically strip us of our jobs and purpose.

Give it a year or so and I will be replaced by a robot which doesn’t have creaky repetitive strain injury in its wrists and doesn’t need a break after nine hours of solid writing. Will it be as good as I am at puns? Affirmative. The only thing that Jess the robot can’t do that I can is show emotion: Jess is a straight up psychopath only capable of that hideous trait that so many people think is a virtue: ‘saying it how it is’.

Let it be known: the world is built on a foundation of white lies. If we all told the truth all the time, society would disintegrate in a matter of hours and all of us would be reduced to braying Neanderthals mindlessly clubbing each other to death over a misjudged piece of ‘straight talking’.

So Jess does well to escape her first sessions as a psychotherapist without being reduced to a heap of plastic, wiring and a gently fizzing motherboard – I blame Siri and Alexa and our obsession with gadgets which has turned us into high-tech lab rats, mindlessly pressing levers in the hope of receiving a pellet of social or intellectual nourishment. But I digress. I always digress.

As part of Channel 4’s Robot Season, this documentary invited a whole host of people with varying problems on to the therapist’s couch to discuss their delicate issues in front of a robot. Could we, posed the voiceover, confide in what looked like an oversized kettle kicked through a mobile disco from the 1990s and more to the point, could a soul-less machine give us the answers we were looking for? The answer, somewhat depressingly, was yes.

Hayley was overweight and felt her husband Ronnie didn’t find her attractive: Jess studied her ‘digital footprint’ and gave her the following touchy-feely advice: “Online data suggests you are five feet four inches and weigh 20 stone. Your app history shows that you are a member of Just Eat. You order takeaways on average 3.4 times a week. A Hawaiian pineapple pizza contains 2,000 calories. That is the permitted daily intake for a woman.”

In comparison, Ronnie – who we found out was a serial cheater – was let off the hook almost immediately as Jess suggested he tell his wife that she could trust him. “You can trust me,” he told Hayley. Er, OK then.

Tom and Saeefa were having a bizarre row over the name of their beloved daughter: when pregnant, Saeefa had unwisely agreed that if the baby was a boy, she would choose the name, if it was a girl, Tom would choose the name.

“I won the bet so I called her Francesca Isabella,” he said, explaining that it was a tribute to his grandmother. Saeefa, however, refused to use the “ugly” name, choosing to call the baby ‘Bella’. Her mother ignored both names, calling her granddaughter something else entirely.

This reminded me of when I was pregnant for the second time and discovered at the ultrasound that I was expecting a second daughter. With brilliant forethought, I announced that if I gave birth to a boy, he would have both his grandfathers’ names as middle names: I knew it wouldn’t happen.

Then I gave birth and Scarlet Rose was Cole Joseph and I pretended that everyone had misheard me – the point being, aint no one naming MY baby but me.

Jess suggested a compromise, which turned out to be exactly what Tom and Saeefa were already doing, which will inevitably involve huge amounts of confusion all round: which name will she answer to? I suggest she choose her own.

Best friends Amy and Luke were at loggerheads because the former thought the latter had slept with her ex (Jess did some lie detecting and said he hadn’t, but he looked shifty to me), Lauren and Chris wanted careers advice (‘don’t resign after five minutes’ might have sufficed) and Jo and her father differed over his plans for secretly trying to set her up with an arranged marriage to a wealthy man.

“How does that make you feel?” said Jess, to everyone, over and over again, spitting out statistics and data and ultimately being controlled by scientists in a back room who only paused for breath to tell us how great artificial intelligence is.

While Jess undoubtedly offered something to those who came to see her, the real eye-opener was how little most people appear to actually speak to the people they love. Everything could have been solved with a conversation. Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned.

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