“It would be naïve to think we will not have human relationships with the Artificial Intelligence in our lives”
Dennis R. Mortensen, creator of the virtual meeting set-up assistants Amy and Andrew from x.ai, hosted a talk “It looks like a human, it sounds like a human” at Web Summit this year. It struck me there, that the question is not whether machine interactions will be part of our daily lives. They already are and will be even more. We need to start thinking what human artificial intelligence relationships will be made of.
Smiling back at a bot
Already in the sixties an experiment at MIT, the “DOCTOR” script for the computer Eliza showed that people speaking with an automated telephone therapist made users become emotionally attached to the program. They occasionally forgot that they were conversing with a computer. How was this possible? The machine seemingly displayed empathy by repeating what callers were saying. And it created follow-up questions by re-assembling the input questions into open ended output questions. A computer program playing their own words back to the callers made people feel heard. And the same people formed an attachment to a machine, like to a caring therapist or deeply listening friend.
So, to dive deeper into the subject I tried out a few bots. “Poncho” sends you weather forecasts and replies to simple weather related questions. At some point I found myself sending smileys and thumbs up back to Poncho. Its message had made me smile, and I sincerely felt that I wanted to smile back. I’ve had the same experience with Siri. I’m aware what makes me smile is the humans’ humour who had programmed the bot. There is a feeling that my smile back will reach the human creators behind the bot – but still, there I am, sending a smiley to a bot. A budding form of human artificial intelligence relationships?
So, what are the types of human artificial intelligence relationships we are seeing?
Arguably, not all that seems AI is AI. Poncho, Siri, Eliza all only execute script logic to assemble pre-scripted answers. Certain recommendation engines – like the Amazon one – do find patters beyond human programmation and act based on that.
Leaving this distinction aside for the moment we are seeing different types of relations appear. We are seeing AI as helpers or virtual assistants that schedule meetings for us or that automatically reply to simple emails or translate for us. AI can be there in the form of advisor, suggesting what to buy next, what else we could like. It can act as a guide or a coach – for example bringing design choices to us and suggesting which step to take next when designing a website. Some say, AI could be better teachers than humans – leaving personal bias out of the student-teacher relationship and being able to adapt better to the needs and pace of individual students. A collaboration between Georgia Tech and IBM ventured far into this area.
AI supported systems have the potential to observe us more intimately than our closest friends and relatives, or even than we can ourselves. Could AI indeed become our doctors and therapists? As an example, the platform ShareCare allows you to interact with physicians via video or chat. Now, where it gets interesting is when an Artificial Intelligence listens in to those conversations, with the aim to understand your physical and emotional wellbeing. The AI can register the look in your eyes. Are you nervous, how quickly are your eyes moving today? Is the eye movement indicating high stress? The AI can compare this to the eye movement of millions of people who have had a heart attack coming up and can warn you of bad things before they potentially happen.
This intense amount of data analysis gets presented to us can have a profound impact on how well we know and understand ourselves. Where am I when the irregularities appear? Who am I with? What is good for me, what bad? AI can help us stay healthy and prevent accidents or major illnesses. Will we at some point be dependent on it to feel and read our body signals correctly? Will human artificial intelligence relationships be made of total dependency?
It does not end here. Silicon Love Dolls are being turned into sex robots – with configurable personality traits. Could sex robots help reduce sex based crime and violence? Or will they contribute to an increasing objectivation of women? Is there room for love in human artificial intelligence relationship? From the epic Space Odyssey 2001 in 1968, to AI Artificial Intelligence in 2001 or the more recent Her (2013) or Ex Machina (2015) storytellers have investigated this question from the love angle – and have shown that it will get complicated.
AI as an extension of ourselves
Marshal McLuhan said: “First man made the hammer, then the hammer made the man”. Like a car is the extension of our legs, artificial intelligence is an extension of our brains. Maurice Conti, director of strategic innovation at Autodesk uses human, AI and robot collaboration to make engineering feats come alive that seem impossible by mere human imagination. Also, the Paul Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is betting on human AI collaboration to solve the toughest scientific and engineering challenges of our times. Elon Musk has a more pessimistic view – and nonetheless advocates us augmenting our brains with AI chips and has founded Neuralink. He see this as a way to stay in control. We ensure we have access to the power of the machines, while also having access to our most human capacities.
The next frontier
We are surrounded more and more by Artificial Intelligence. Some is invisible to us – analysing, predicting, proposing behind the scenes. Others we meet in chat conversations or as advisors while scheduling, designing or requesting customer service help. Yet others we encounter in physical forms – more and more human like, mirroring our movements, gestures, facial expressions, giving us a feeling of empathy while supporting us with mundane tasks or tasks that are too difficult for us to perform ourselves.
To conclude, I realize we will co-exist more intimately with AI powered machines than I would have ever imagined. We are in a relationship. For a truly healthy relationship we need to intimately know and understand ourselves. What makes us uniquely human? The more emotional, creative, compassionate, illogical and messy sides of our being come in the focus. Do we dare to dive into our deepest humanity and express that ever more? I feel it is necessary to not lose ourselves in the “AI and I” relationship. We need this self exploration to design and build AI for the good. To use it and enhance and transform us in ways that will benefit our species and our planet. Being at a new frontier with technology means being at a new frontier of ourselves. Exciting times.
For further reference – a source that makes me hopeful:
For the relationship between humans and technology:
For a collection of articles:
Latest posts by Kevyn Eva Norton (see all)
- AI and I – Human Artificial Intelligence Relationships - December 7, 2017