AI and loneliness

It was a bright Sunday morning, I was on way to attend a recently joined language class. Being a new route I launched Google Maps, as usual. Feeling bored during the hour-long drive, I spoke out “Ok Google”, followed by a question about the “next turn”. The Google Maps lady replied correctly, though after some wait.

Then I asked for “destination” and the lady replied – correctly. She did know few things and I was feeling less bored. I said “Ok Google – Thanks”, the lady replied with “you are welcome” and somehow I felt that I was not alone!

Emboldened, I asked her to make a call for me. Madam replied that she will do it when I stopped navigating. She was actually bothered about my safety!? I asked her to take me to WhatsApp. Again she refused since I was driving! It felt like I was talking with a friend sitting on the other side of the internet!

During the one hour drive, I ignored two incoming calls texting that I was driving, but actual reason was that I was enjoying my conversation with the lady!

The return trip was all about weather, ETA, next turns, thanks & welcomes.

This simple episode with a basic Assistant started me thinking. These interactive programs will evolve as social entertainment services as they become more intelligent. Social recluse and lonely persons would surely find solace in these machines. Even normal persons will make few machine friends. Can a self-learning Chatbot give company to a lonely person just like a human companion? Yes, I think so. It may actually keep the person happier. Literally getting under their skin. Adjusting realtime to their subtle mood shifts. Like a person who loves you! Like a person who is a friend!

In very near future it would be difficult to recognize if the lady on the other side of the Internet is real or artificial!

The impact of AI on human relationships is going to be huge. Complex man-machine emotional dynamics will evolve and there will also be a resultant impact on human to human relations.

The most popular kids show in my town is Doraemon & Nobita. Kids adore how Doraemon supports and helps Nobita like a best friend, without noticing that it is actually a machine. And…. most would choose Doraemon over Nobita as a personal friend.

While there are deeper questions to be answered on the nature of Intelligence and Singularity, for now, these data-driven machines are not going to run away with the show. Unless we decide to collaborate and make them do it. Our motivation could be greed, lust for power or loneliness.

When humans start collaborating with intelligent machines purely for selfish and emotional reasons, then the “man-machine entity” could evolve in unpredictable ways – if left unchecked. The allure of servile super-intelligence is seductive and irresistible. But it can take us down the rabbit hole….very fast.

This aspect of AI needs to be studied extensively by thinkers, psychologists, mental health experts and scientists. And monitored closely by technopreneurs, governments and civil society. We will have to create new paradigms in business ethics, politics and emotional intelligence. We have to become sufficiently responsible to handle great power!

We have unleashed a power which will soon enter an acceleration phase. Mankind has to decide its existential priorities before it is decided by something else. And the time to act is now!

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