Conversation can be a powerful tool in a healthcare professional’s kit. We’ve all had nurses and physicians ask us to tell them what’s wrong, describe out symptoms, assign a number to our pain level, and answer whether it hurts when they “do that.” Parents learn early on that allowing children to talk “through” issues and concerns can help them build trust in others and in themselves. Conversation engines that ask questions, listen to answers, interact, and learn about the people with whom they engage are already part of many of our lives when we start a sentence with “Alexa, …” or “Hey, Google, …”

U.K.-based Project Kitchen Table is a voice-assisted technology company that recently won the Mental Health in Children Challenge award for KIT in the annual AXA PPP healthcare awards competition. KIT, which is still in early development, is a digital conversation partner designed to support parents and teachers by keeping children talking. KIT’s target audience is 10 to 12-year-old-girls. The overall purpose is to help children gain social confidence and skills.

The Project Kitchen Table team is building a conversation engine API. The engine uses linguistic prompts to learn about a child’s mood and mental health and to watch for destructive language. The design goal is that KIT will recognize verbal and nonverbal skills and learn the nuances of each user. As the engine gathers data it will shape its own prompts and social cues to help the users improve their language skills and emotional awareness.

The Project Kitchen Table group has enlisted the help of British mental health charities and schools to help design KIT. The intention for the future is to introduce KIT as a “freemium” product in which the base program will be available at no cost to all and upgrades sold on a buy one, give one model.

KIT is an admirable and massive project. Amazon and Google are also building conversation engines and those enterprises can access virtually unlimited funds. In the end, it may be that partnering with ecommerce giants would provide the fastest route for private groups to make rapid progress with voice-assisted technology.