Imagine being able to feel less pain. Those who suffer from certain chronic conditions experience pain literally all the time. Deep breathing exercises and distraction therapy – using music, games and books – have all been used to help people of all ages reduce pain levels.
Artificial intelligence gurus in Malta are taking distraction therapy up a notch as they’re currently developing an outside-the-box solution for pain.
No pain, yes game
Virtual reality and AI experts are designing MORPHEUS – a colourful platform featuring an island filled with wild animals.
The game uses real-time data through a smartwatch that measures the way patients feels when playing the game, and the game, in turn, adjusts accordingly. For example, if the watch senses a player not being stimulated, the game adapts to boost the patient’s engagement. Alternatively, if the watch senses anxiety, then it readjusts by removing intense challenges.
This project is being funded by Epic’s ‘Epic for Good’ initiative and led by Prof. Alexei Dingli and Luca Bondin from the Department of Artificial Intelligence, but there is a multi-disciplinary team behind it. The game has in fact been designed by Fabrizio Cali from the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Science under the supervision of Prof. Vince Briffa. And Dr Victor Calavagna from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery is an adviser on the project.
Because the game is still at designing stage, its rollout hasn’t yet been announced, but the plan is for it to be used by child cancer patients at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre.
Pain = ? Fun = ?
What is pain? Physically – what does our body go through when we experience pain? Putting it simply – you are injured, and the body sends that message to your spinal cord which carries the same message through spinal receptors, reaching the brain. The thalamus in the brain receives the message and again sends it to the cerebral cortex. Finally, the message is processed, and it is then when we say “ouch, that’s painful”.
And fun? Fun triggers the release of endorphins (a.k.a. ”the happy hormones”) – offering a sense of well-being to the body, that can counteract the feelings of pain.
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