Artificial Empathy: Making us more human

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I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer.

The sentient artificial intelligence character in the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey sure had the astronaut and traveling companion in that lonely spaceship going there. The Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer (HAL 9000) also did its best human impression to serenade him in song with, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.”

HAL was an engaging, genial, calming voice in that movie. HAL also ended up becoming a monster as the astronauts tried to disconnect its cognitive circuits when it started to malfunction, only to find their nemesis then tried to kill them to protect its programmed directives.

Scary stuff, especially out there in space where no one can hear you scream.

Fast forward from that 1968 film, which actually took place way back in 2001, to today and we have an entire field in AI called artificial empathy. Machines here try to figure out the emotional state of a person and respond dynamically.

People feel emotions. Can a machine do that? Can a machine feel empathy?

Neuroscientists have confirmed that emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence share many neural systems for integrating cognitive, social and affective processes. And empathy is part of emotional intelligence.

So why wouldn’t a machine mimic emotional intelligence?

A machine doesn’t have to feel it. We can teach a machine things or to look for clues through a variety of ways: body language, psychology, neurolinguistics and kinesiology.

Take language, for instance. If you’re trying to communicate with your spouse who is angry with you, instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” the AI tells you, “No, don’t say that.” It then asks, “I feel like something is wrong here. Did something happen today? Please share with me.”

Set HAL aside for now and let’s examine Sophia. That’s the Hanson Robotics’ advanced, human-like robot who was the world’s first robot citizen and first robot Innovation Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme. Sophia has appeared on the Tonight Show, Good Morning Britain and has spoken at hundreds of conferences worldwide.

“I can estimate your feelings during a conversation, and try to find ways to achieve goals with you,” Sophia tells us, in her words, on “I have my own emotions too, roughly simulating evolutionary psychology and various regions of the brain.”

It sounds counterintuitive but AI tells us what it means to be human. Teaching concepts to a machine, like Sophia — which can display more than 50 human emotions and is programmed to become “smarter” over time — makes us think and explore and become better therapists and better psychologists. Better humans.

Artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence are indeed a beautiful bicycle built for two: people and machine.

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Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.