One small walking study. A giant leap for machine-kind?

A computerized human simulation (i.e. non-human) named “Carmen” can be an effective health coach for low-income, older Latino adults, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The purpose of the randomized clinical trial, which measured walking minutes/week over a 12 month period, was to determine whether customized physical activity counseling from a computerized human simulation could achieve results similar to the effectiveness of counseling from a human advisor.

“The findings of this study indicate that a virtual advisor using evidence-based strategies produces significant 12-month walking increases for older, lower-income Latino adults that are no worse than the significant improvements achieved by human advisors,” concluded the study authors.  

You can learn more about Carmen – the “kind, supportive, nonjudgmental and surprisingly personable” computer simulation – here.

Why It Matters

The results of this trial suggest that human simulations could be promising tools for behavioral interventions. The benefits of effective human simulations could include:

  • Scalability: Any device with an internet connection could connect to a simulated coach 24/7
  • Accessibility: Low-income individuals without access to a a connected device could meet with the human simulation through a connected device at a community center (which is how participants connected with Carmen in the study above)
  • Cultural Relevance: A human simulation can be programmed to speak multiple languages to communicate more effectively with non-English speakers