Cognitive plausibility in voice-based AI health counselors

Thomas Kannampallil, Joshua M. Smyth, Steve Jones, Philip R.O. Payne, Jun Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Voice-based personal assistants using artificial intelligence (AI) have been widely adopted and used in home-based settings. Their success has created considerable interest for its use in healthcare applications; one area of prolific growth in AI is that of voice-based virtual counselors for mental health and well-being. However, in spite of its promise, building realistic virtual counselors to achieve higher-order maturity levels beyond task-based interactions presents considerable conceptual and pragmatic challenges. We describe one such conceptual challenge—cognitive plausibility, defined as the ability of virtual counselors to emulate the human cognitive system by simulating how a skill or function is accomplished. An important cognitive plausibility consideration for voice-based agents is its ability to engage in meaningful and seamless interactive communication. Drawing on a broad interdisciplinary research literature and based on our experiences with developing two voice-based (voice-only) prototypes that are in the early phases of testing, we articulate two conceptual considerations for their design and use—conceptualizing voice-based virtual counselors as communicative agents and establishing virtual co-presence. We discuss why these conceptual considerations are important and how it can lead to the development of voice-based counselors for real-world use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number72
Journalnpj Digital Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Information Management


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