Tough Talks

Tough Talks is a virtual reality disclosure program for HIV+ youth to practice disclosing their HIV status to their sexual partner. During the first iteration of this program, participants used the program and talked to an AI of their choosing and practice disclosure conversations.

These are examples of the AI characters individuals could disclose to in Tough Talks 1.

During the first iteration of Tough Talks, I worked closely with a natural language processing group and a development team to refine our AI’s vocabulary to have realistic responses and tones that mimic the wide array of experiences HIV+ youth can face while disclosing their status to others. I conducted usability sessions with positive youth to test our AI’s functionality, to gauge the realism of the simulations, and to see if Tough Talks would be an acceptable program to our target population. Disclosure is an important part of acceptance of one’s HIV status. I was surprised at how easy it was for participants to feel emotionally connected to the program, as well as how participants stated that it brought up the same emotions as disclosing to someone in real life. It made me realize that virtual reality simulations could be a safe way to help HIV+ youth understand their own insecurities and fears around telling their status to those closest to them.

Currently, we are working on the second version of Tough Talks. We are rebuilding this platform to include learning modules around disclosure, as well refine the “brains” of our AIs. We are also crowdsourcing data via a comic book contest around HIV disclosure. The vocabulary and scenarios gathered from this contest will be featured in the new version of Tough Talks.

An abstract I wrote with one of my co-workers was accepted for a poster presentation at the 2016 International AIDS Conference. I also designed the poster. Check it out below.

“Tough Talks”: Developing a Virtual Reality Application to Support HIV Status Disclosure among Young MSM.