About This Episode:
Darius Mora is the CEO and Co-Founder of Vitality Therapeutics, a start-up using artificial intelligence to solve mental health problems.
You might not know this, but machine learning can be used to detect patterns in our speech that can help us diagnose mental health issues like depression and burnout faster.
In a world where therapists are scarce and expensive, applying AI to the massive mental health problems facing our society today is an incredibly exciting frontier.
We discuss the implications of emerging tech on some of our most pressing problems.
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2:51 – (Ross) “We’re entering this stage with ChatGPT, DALL·E, where AI is starting to become a more functional part of our life. We’re on the precipice of that, where people are saying, ‘Hey, you can make money online by having chat GPT code a website for you and then you can just copy that code and then you can use it to drive traffic and make $1,000 a day.’ So we’re starting to see people who are practically attempting to use AI and also in terms of artwork, big, big questions about copyright and ownership and all of that and how do we generate all this stuff? But what I find most fascinating about AI or machine learning, if you will, and it’s what you touched on at the very start, is that when we set machine learning to solve problems that we have, it solves problems in ways that we might not have seen and that can have potential consequences, both good and bad…but the idea that AI or machine learning could detect something like depression or burn out in you by using something other than what you might think, like the tonality of your voice, totally independent of the actual content of your words, is just something that’s very fascinating to me.”
4:49 – “I think the timing is just right. Like you said, you know, everybody’s talking about ChatGPT and DALL·E and all those are amazing. And, you know, machine learning either can complete code or write code for you. And it’s going to solve problems that we don’t even know were possible. And this is definitely one of them. You know, like you said, machine learning is a computer vision. And voice analysis has been used to diagnose physical illnesses before. It’s super cool. And so we think we can do that for mental health.”
6:29 – “It was actually in conversations with my dad, who has been diagnosed with bipolar, and he’s managing really well right now. So he’s doing well. But when something like that hits personal to home, you become more curious about how this whole world works. And he’s always been curious about AI and machine learning. And back in 2019, he was asking me kind of how it works. And I was figuring out the basics. And we talked about the example of doctors using computer vision to get a second opinion on x rays. The AI’s not making decisions, but a second opinion may point out something that a doctor would normally miss or radiologists in this case. And so I was kind of explaining that, and my dad is a very smart guy and he was kind of thinking you can break down music into music sheet, you can have data and you can kind of replicate, go back and forth. And so then he’s thinking there must be a way to break down voice into some kind of a voice sheet or some kind of data and spot patterns, just like you would with anything else.”
9:14 – “We are supporting an expedition to the South Pole. It’s happening on the 1st of January. The Oura Ring, which you might know, they’re providing the physical biomarkers for the expedition and we’re providing the mental biomarkers for the expedition. So people on the ice, the actual people participating there, will be using our technology every day, will be collecting the data and kind of measuring their health and giving them what we call the vitality score, which is just like the Oura Ring gives you a sleep score and readiness score. We’ll give you a kind of an overall mental health score and then a breakdown of your stress levels, your happiness, your joyfulness and all these things.”
12:35 – “We know that we can look at depression and burnout, but there’s a lot of other stuff that we don’t even know what this technology can do and what the potential, obviously our long-term mission is not only diagnosis, but also treatment. We’ve internally been experimenting with our own AI therapist you can actually talk to, so it’s not just diagnosis, but also treatment. This is something that will take time before it can safely be tested with the public. But I think we can do the full circle mental health down the line.”
14:35 – “People don’t reach out to therapists until their life is affected in a very negative way. And by then, it’s already too late. So that’s the first problem that we don’t even begin to process. Now, let’s say you realize, ‘Okay, I’m depressed. I need help.’ If you’re in the U.S., there is 106,000 licensed therapists. Not enough for everyone right now. If you’re lucky and you have the money, you might get an appointment within a couple of weeks. Sometimes it could take a few months, depending on your situation. If you’re depressed, you need help today, not three months from now. And then the problem is – a good therapist will charge you 200 bucks an hour that the insurance will not cover. And when you’re depressed, you need help every day. Not once every two weeks. If you can afford 400 bucks a month extra, which most people in the world, including the developed world, cannot do. And so what we think is that we can help with kind of pointing out the red flags early on so you can find help professionally and get a therapist early on. And then maybe you can do one or two sessions a month, but you can use our tech every day between the sessions and the therapist will be able to watch your progress objectively, not subjectively. So we absolutely don’t want to replace therapists or psychologists or anyone. But I mean, this is a gigantic crisis that we don’t have really a solution for.”
18:56 – “Maybe it’s the age that we’re in right now is that we want quick fixes and quick help and a quick hack. And you want, companies looking for growth hacks and you just want to move on to the next thing so you can shove your mental health to the side and not worry about it. But it’s usually the quick hacks that don’t work. You know, my own journey lasted more than 12 months of recovery and I would say I’m not full 100% yet.”
19:48 – “I wrote an article, published it all over called The Micros and Macros of Life. And that was kind of my biggest takeaway from this burnout…So the micros and macros of life is my epiphany, realization I’ve had, from the entire burnout experience. Micros are all the things in your life that can help, but they’re all tools. And this is what YouTubers and Instagram influencers and all these quick fix people are obsessed with are all these little tools. Meditation is a tool and breath work is a tool and going to bed at a certain time is a tool. And all these apps I mean, they’re all great and useful exercise, but they are tools to get you to a point. And I have over-optimized my life for tools which allow me to disregard the macros, which is the really important stuff that matters.”
21:00 – “If you looked at my life, it looked like the perfect self-help book. I’d wake up at six in the morning, I’d meditate, I’d do breathwork. I’d go out and do my incantation, say ‘I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m wealthy.’ I’d go to the gym, I’d exercise the perfect amount of time and activity. I’d come back. I would chunk out every 10 minutes of my day and optimize, optimize, optimize. And I was fucking miserable at the end. And these are the micros. I mean, again, they’re useful and again, I still, I meditate and I do all these things, but I don’t disregard what really matters. And what really matters is what is the relationship you have with yourself? With your God, if you believe in one, or the spirit or the universe, or your emotions? Whatever it is that you believe in the nature. What is the relationship with your intimate partner, if you have one? Relationship with your friends, relationship with your family, your connection, relationship with the nature? And do you have a mission and a purpose in life? If not, are you seeking one? So all these things that are the macros, the really important stuff I just brushed aside.”
23:32 – (Ross) “You can wake up, do all the right things, express gratitude, meditate, but then as soon as you stop doing those things which make you feel better, you have to sit down at your computer and actually do the work that you hate or the stress. And so it’s not like you can just continue that Zen feeling through this incredible stressful thing, and a lot of people feel that they should just be happier in what they’re doing. They feel that something must be wrong with me if I’m not just full of joy every single day in my job. But the reality is most people are in a job that they hate. Most people don’t believe in the mission of their company or organization. Most people are only doing what they’re doing for a paycheck and nothing else. So the idea that a big part of your success in combating these things was I have to cut ties with something that I was doing and focus on a mission that is a very profound thing that I wish more people would talk about and take seriously.”
46:14 – (Darius): “What will be valuable? When anybody’s a designer, anybody’s an engineer. I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe. I don’t know. I do, when I’m back home and I want to relax, I do some carpentry and eventually AI robots will replace me with that as well. But maybe there will be a sticker of ‘human made’ and that’ll be valuable in the future. Just because it was human made.
(Ross): The imperfections will make it more beautiful. That’s all we can hope for as a species. We just have to hope that there’s a certain kind of charm to our quirks, right? Because we’re not going to beat anybody at anything. We’re just going to hope that we’re quirky enough to be valuable.”
47:18 – (Ross) “We’re at the beginning of something that we absolutely cannot comprehend for sure. But it’s cool that you’re out there trying to harness this for the force of good. And, you know, I think the point of this show and the point of doing these kinds of things is to stay on the joyful side of the tech revolution and what’s to come and to see the possibilities, because God knows that the news provides us, and social media, with nothing but doom and gloom constantly. It’s all negative all the time. So having anybody say, ‘Hey, this is something cool that’s coming out of this or this is something positive,’ Let’s say depression rates actually go down in the next 20 years thanks to this, we have to sort of look at these kinds of things I think, also as part of our mental health, to not just think that everything everywhere is getting worse all the time.”
48:08 – “You have to pick the data input for your brain very carefully because it is a machine, and if you feed it crap, it will output crap.”