- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A group of researchers in Massachusetts are testing a “chatbot” with terminally ill patients who struggle with funeral arrangements and spiritual questions.

Timothy Bickmore of Boston’s Northeastern University has worked with a team of scientists, doctors and hospital chaplains to come up with the tablet-based chatbot. Promising results from a group of 44 patients paved the way for a two-year trial with 364 people with less than one year to live.

Mr. Bickmore told New Scientist Monday that too many people fail to have tough conversations before its too late.

“We see a need for technology to intervene at an earlier point,” he said.

The researcher added that his chatbot operates within a very specific set of boundaries to avoid “situations where the agent recommends things that are dangerous.”

New Scientist also spoke with The Conversation Project, a charity that specializes in end-of-life care issues, for its opinion.

“It’s hard for humans to be non-judgmental when they’re having these kinds of conversations,” said Rosemary Lloyd. “So some people might find it easier to talk to a chatbot about their thoughts.”

Mr. Bickmore told the magazine that the chatbot alerts family members or caregivers when the patient is ready to formalize plans.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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