Woebot, the startup behind an automated psychotherapy bot of the same name, announced today that it has closed an $8 million round of series A funding.
The company’s bot is designed to help people cope with mental illnesses like depression through the application of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises. The bot is currently available on Facebook Messenger and a recently launched iOS app.
This funding shows the potential for artificial intelligence techniques in natural language processing and other arenas to help humans. Woebot doesn’t plan to replace human therapists, but it does provide users with a conversational partner who doesn’t get tired, go on vacation, or sleep. That can be important for people who need help late at night or on weekends, but who don’t want to try reaching a human being.
Woebot founder and CEO Alison Darcy said in an interview with VentureBeat that the company plans to use the new funds to bring on more employees, with a focus on building up its design and AI expertise. Woebot is planning to expand the reach of its bot soon with the of launch an Android app. Darcy also said that the company is looking into adding dialectical behavior therapy techniques to Woebot’s toolbox.
The bot already has significant traction. It currently receives more than two million messages per week, from users in more than 130 countries. Some users who don’t speak English as their primary language are even running Woebot’s responses through translation software in order to use it, Darcy said. (The company has no immediate plans to support other languages, however — the team first wants to nail the experience of using Woebot in English.)
New Enterprise Associates (NEA) led the round, which included participation from the AI Fund, an incubator for companies that Woebot board chair Andrew Ng launched at the end of last month. This is the second public deal for the AI Fund — it has also funded Ng’s company Landing.ai, which brings machine learning expertise to manufacturing companies.