The dystopian cheeriness of Singapore's useless, gaslighting AI therapist chatbot

In August 2022, the Ministries of Health and Education in Singapore launched a free online AI mental health chatbot service called Mindline at Work. The main idea was to ease the stress for overwhelmed teachers who can't find other mental health support. That, in theory, isn't so bad!

In practice, however, it seems to be a bunch of generic mental health platitudes that make patients feel frustrated and unstable. From Rest of World:

Selecting the "Need a listening ear?" option, a friendly cartoon penguin popped up on the screen. "So Bud, what's your mood like today?" [the AI therapist chatbot] asked. When Mindy recounted the week's ordeals, the penguin suggested she try a breathing exercise. An abstract animation gently pulsed in and out, and she laughed out loud. 

"I was like, no, I just want someone to listen!" she told Rest of World. "I want to be heard!"


"From the teacher's point of view, it's pretty useless, lah," Mr. Chow, a public-school teacher in his late 20s, who requested a pseudonym as he was not authorized to speak to media, told Rest of World. Having taught for two years, Mr. Chow is on a government bond that requires him to teach for several more. He clocks so much unpaid overtime, he said, that he estimates his real hourly wage to be lower than 10 Singapore dollars an hour. Between teaching classes, completing administrative tasks, and running an extracurricular group, he says, "sometimes you feel like your brain is going to crack."

Mr. Chow says that no one he knows takes the Mindline bot seriously. "It's a joke," he said. "It's trying to gaslight the teachers, to say, 'Oh, this amount of workload is normal, let's see how we can reframe our perspective on this.'"

In a very bleak way, however, some of the screenshots of Mindline in action are at least darkly comical:

Singapore's free AI therapy-bot is as problematic as you'd think [Meerie Jesuthasan / Rest of World]

Image: Public Domain via Pexels