Name: Woebots.

Age: 52 years.

Appearance: Nonjudgmental.

I’m glad to hear it. In a few words, tell me how you’re feeling today.

Me? Oh, a bit low, I suppose. I understand that you are feeling “a bit low”. Tell me more about this.

Well I’m always a bit sad at the beginning of January when Christmas is over and I have to get back to work. I am sorry to hear about “the beginning of January”. When did this happen?

Eh? What are you talking about? You feel “a bit low” because of “the beginning of January”. Is that right?

Not any more. Now I feel annoyed that you’re talking to me like a robot in a call centre. Sorry. I thought it would be a fun way to discuss woebots.

Woe … what? Woebots are artificially intelligent software applications that ask people questions to help them with their emotional problems.

You always do this. I tell you I’m upset and you just ignore my feelings and start talking about some pointless novelty in the news. Actually the first counselling software, called Eliza, was developed as early as 1966. But it’s true: that some new applications, such as one called Tess and another just called Woebot, offer fresh promise.

Says who? Their marketing departments? Yes. But also Aidan Jones, the chief executive of Relate, a relationship counselling charity. Its human counsellors just can’t keep up with demand. “We have to start to look at what can be done with a non-human interaction,” Jones said.

Non-human interaction is exactly the problem in our relationship. Well it is true that computers are not a substitute for human counsellors, but they can hold up a mirror to people’s behaviour, which is very helpful in some cases.

Like when people don’t understand how incredibly annoying they are? I’d say that’s a slightly judgey way to put it. Also, woebots can easily teach many of the skills and principles involved in cognitive behavioural therapy.

But mainly they’re just cheap. Is that the point? They are much cheaper than human therapists, it’s true, but Jones says they have other advantages: “Our counsellors tell me that, because it is more anonymous, people will start to explain what their issue is faster.”

I’ve explained my issue many times. It’s just that you don’t listen. That’s interesting. Why do you feel that I don’t listen?

Do say: “If only I’d married a robot in the first place.”

Don’t say: “Have you tried switching your husband off and on again?”

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