The worlds of addiction research and artificial intelligence research are colliding for Warren Bickel, a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Bickel, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Psychology in the Virginia Tech College of Science, will discuss the relationship of artificial intelligence (AI) and human psychology at an upcoming workshop at a conference that will unite some of the top artificial intelligence researchers in the world in Stockholm, Sweden.

The AI and Computational Psychology Workshop is set for July 14 as part of the 27th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the 23rd European Conference on Artificial Intelligence. 

Bickel, who directs the VTCRI Addiction and Recovery Research Center, has collaborated with AI researchers to explore how large-scale social media analytics can be used to identify the social media profile of addiction, and how this information can be used to diagnose substance abuse disorder and implement early intervention.

“For me, science gets interesting when seemingly different fields come together to address a common problem,” said Bickel, who is also the Virginia Tech Carilion Behavioral Health Research Professor. “Novel discoveries emerge from diverse environments, which makes it very exciting to lead the workshop. One of the things that I appreciate by being in the space I am in, which includes addiction, health behavior, psychology, pharmacology, cognitive science, and human neuroimaging, is we sit at this convergence of multiple disciplines and have the opportunity to interact with different groups — and learn from each other.” 

Bickel’s research since 1983 has helped lead to opioid replacement therapies currently in use at medical centers around the nation. Since then, he has been the architect of the International Quit and Recovery Registry and the Social Interactome, which examines how social media networking helps people who are trying to recover from addiction.

“We would like to hear Dr. Bickel’s insight on how to model human behavior and the decision-making process, and how AI techniques such as machine-learning and data mining can be used to facilitate this task,” said workshop organizer Shimei Pan of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who was formerly a research scientist at IBM Watson Research Center in New York. “Dr. Bickel is one of the pioneers working on incorporating social media in the analysis and treatment of patients with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). For example, in his Social Interactome of Recovery project, he has done some groundbreaking work to examine whether the topology of the social network and the similarity of individuals to one another strongly influence the effectiveness of addiction treatment.”  

This year, due to the co-location of artificial intelligence conferences, organizers say the workshops represent a unique opportunity to meet and discuss ideas with researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines spanning artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous agents.

For Bickel, the setting is an opportunity to get closer to solutions.

“Social support — what should it be and how it can be constructed to be maximally helpful — that is our driving therapeutic idea, If we can provide social support on the web we can help individuals facing the problem of addiction all over the world,” said Bickel who also co-directs the VTCRI Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors with Matthew Hulver, the head of the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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