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Rahola Zandie and Mohsen Sharifi RenaniQ&A with Rohola Zandie and Mohsen Sharifi Renani, co-founders of MyCogito

Rahola Zandie is a fourth year PhD student at the University of Denver. He works primarily in artificial intelligence and affective computing and natural language processing (NLP). Mohsen Sharifi Renani is a fourth year PhD student working in the Biomechanics Lab. Both have worked with DreamFace Tecnologies, LLC, a DU-based technological venture that creates social companion robots for patients of cognitive decline.

They are co-founders of MyCogito, an app that uses AI technology to collect meaningful information from users to provide insight and recommendations for their mental health. Zandie works on the AI side of the operation, while Renani focuses more on the business side. 

Entrepreneurship@DU sat down with Zandie and Renani to discuss MyCogito and AI innovations in health care. 

Q: What drew you to the issue of mental health, and the ways in which AI can help? 

Renani: We believe we are living in the digital age. In this age, one’s well-being is increasingly in danger. We are not equipped with comprehensive tools to cope with this. Usually, technology is only half of the picture. We often neglect the impact of our interactions in digital life and how it affects our mental well-being. For example, if you consider the human body, it has a mental and physical aspect. You are constantly generating a lot of physiological-based data that can be measured by your devices that track your physical well-being. But we believe the mental aspect is missing in that data collection. 

Things like stress, anxiety and depression are the product of several factors, including both several physiological conditions and our interactions with the digital world. For example, your stress level is the product of not only your diet and your workout—it is also the product of the content you consume and generate on a daily basis, like the music you listen to or the videos you watch. So right now, we are missing that part of data collection and it is costing a lot, both economically and socially. That is where MyCogito comes in. We use that data, combined with the physiological data, to provide a more holistic and comprehensive analysis. 

Zandie: We are really interested in the relationship between mental and physical health. We know our physical health is affected by our mental condition, and we know it works the other way around as well. These relationships are still not investigated. We are going to go deeper into this area. With pattern recognition and AI, we can have a greater understanding how these things affect each other and give the users of MyCogito a better story of their health throughout time—basically, give them a causal relationship of their mental and physical health. 

Q: How might this technology innovate the ways we approach mental health treatment? 

Renani: Our solution is important as a tool for diagnosis. Currently, diagnosing mental health conditions usually happens at a later stage because there are not viable tools that correctly and objectively measure people’s states of mind. But there is a science of digital phenotyping that can measure someone’s subjective experience in an objective way. We are planning to measure those mental aspects now, such as stress, anxiety and depression, and see how it relates to user engagement based on their interactions with the internet and with digital content. So AI is driving how we make those measurements. 

Q: How did your backgrounds lead you toward this venture? 

Zandie: I did my Masters in Computer Science with a focus in AI. I spent a few years working in different sectors, such as banking and data analytics. During my PhD, my focus was more on NLP with a focus on health care. I was working with DreamFace, and we were working on companion robots for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I started to do more research on affective computing and how to use AI in health care. Mine and Mohsen’s interests crossed because he was also interested in health care, but mostly working with the sensors and the biological parts of that project. We realized we made a really strong combination of expertise and background, so that was when this idea came to our minds. 

Renani: My background is in biomechanics, very much health care oriented. I have worked in health care settings, such as a hospital for special surgeries and a medical device company. While I was working, I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. That was why I quit and went back to school to get my PhD and expand my opportunities. I changed my focus to computer science and learning more about AI, and because of my health care background I realized the potential power of AI in that setting. So when Rohola and I met, we realized we would be a perfect team to tackle this issue.  

Q: What’s next for MyCogito? 

Renani: Over the last few weeks, we have been developing our business and financial models to narrow it down in ways that will let us start effectively. We are planning to raise some seed money. At the same time, we are onboarding with some developers, specifically iOS developers, as well as medical psychologists. We are planning to have some collaboration or pilot study to get things started, either with CU’s Anschutz Medical Center or here at DU. This will really help MyCogito get off its feet and get some traction. 

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