Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The National Eating Disorders Association Will Use AI Chatbots


The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has disbanded its helpline staff and will replace them with an AI chatbot named “Tessa” from June 1. The call caused massive employee burnout. Six paid employees oversee a volunteer staff of about 200 people who handled calls (sometimes many) from about 70,000 people last year.

NEDA officials told npr The decision had nothing to do with unionization. Instead, said Vice President Lauren Smoller, the growing number of calls and the largely volunteer staff were creating more legal liability for the organization and increasing wait times for those who needed help.

“It is, frankly, unacceptable in 2023 that people will have to wait a week or more to get the information, the specialized treatment options that they need,” she said.

However, former workers term the move as blatantly anti-union.

NEDA claims that this was a long-anticipated change and that AI can better serve people with eating disorders, Abby Harper wrote, A helpline associate and union member. “But don’t be fooled – this isn’t really about chatbots. It’s union busting, plain and simple.

The creator of Tessa says that the chatbot, which was designed specifically for NEDA, is not as advanced as ChatGPT. Instead, it is programmed with a limited number of responses intended to help people learn strategies to avoid eating disorders. This is not a sympathetic ear.

“It’s not an open-ended tool for you to talk to and feel like you’re just going to have access to a listening ear, maybe like a helpline,” Dr. Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, Professor of Psychiatry Dr. The University of Washington Medical School, which helped design Tessa, told NPR.

NEDA is now in the process of shutting down the helpline.

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