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This AI tool identifies anxiety using sound

By listening to the pitch, tone, word choice, and pauses in your speech, it can create a ‘stress portrait’ to illustrate areas of tension within your body.

Here at Thred, it goes without saying that we’re suckers for the latest in quirky tech innovations.

While we certainly have a knack for keeping up-to-date with the insatiable human desire to constantly evolve in this sphere, AI tools are something of an anomaly to us, transitioning from farfetched ideas to reality at such a rapid pace we’re sure it won’t be long before we’re using them in the office.

To an extent, we already are. From submitting prompts to Elon Musk’s rather disturbing text generator to toying with Uberduck so we can rejig our favourite pre-existing songs, we certainly have a fair share of experience with this form of entertainment.

Jokes aside, however, Artificial Intelligence is also proving to be quite revolutionary for mental health research (a little more progressive than our newfound ability to have articles read like an Eminem track, I might add). But how did this recent foray into analysing our psychological state come about?

With the world’s first voice-activated stress test, of course. Developed by health service Cigna International, the online tool can identify your anxiety using just sound.

Not only this, but it will then build you a ‘stress portrait’ to show you that whatever’s keeping you up at night isn’t solely manifesting itself as muscle tension, a headache, or exhaustion.

‘More than 20 years of research were expanded upon by applying advanced machine-learning techniques to one of the largest datasets of labelled anxiety speech in the world,’ states Cigna’s website.

‘The algorithms have been tested on more than 15,000 individuals aged 18 to 80 and are robust enough to support different populations with varying accents and levels of speaking abilities.’

To acquire this non-physical, measured reading of the user’s anxiety, Cigna StressWaves Test listens to the pitch, tone, word choice, and pauses in their speech.

It then analyses these acoustic and semantic voice patterns to evaluate quite how anxious they are, resulting in the aforementioned visual representation of where on the body they’re feeling it most.

Cigna Europe's "stress portrait" identifies areas of tension

‘We all deal with stress every day. Whether it be from work, relationships, family, society or all the above; stress has become so normalised that it is often neglected or even undetected,’ explains Cigna’s Associate Medical Director (and the brains behind the operation), Dr Peter Mills.

‘There is no doubt the past year has also magnified people’s stress levels, and we can see from our research that mental health problems have worsened across all age groups.’

In fact, according to Cigna’s research, 71% of UK citizens are stressed, with 12% of this figure deeming it ‘unmanageable.’

If this goes unchecked, Mills worries we may see dramatic consequences in the future. This, he adds, was the driving factor behind the tool’s creation.

One question remains. Though an undeniably fascinating notion, how can it go beyond a tech gimmick and actually help people? Namely through allowing them to recognise that stress is more than just a feeling, that it triggers physical reactions that affect our bodies, our emotions, and thinking.

Stress portraits: how this new AI tool can tell how stressed you are from just your voice

The hope is that this will encourage us to stop ignoring what we can’t see because, over time, unaddressed anxiety can lead to long-term physical and mental conditions.

‘It’s hugely important that we provide support beyond the typical provisions of ‘body and mind’, to help people stay healthy and well in this ever-changing world, and help them address the disruption to their lives, brought by the pandemic,’ finishes Mills.

‘Knowing what your stress levels look like can help you to start managing it.’

If you’re as curious as I am to find out what your anxiety sounds like, why not take the test yourself?

We’re sure going to.


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