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AI and Loneliness

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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 real time 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 Nobita like a best friend, without noticing that it is actually a machine. And, most kids would choose Doraemon over Nobita as a 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.

Humans have started collaborating with intelligent machines for commercial and emotional reasons. This “man-machine engagement” 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.

We have unleashed a technology which will soon enter an acceleration phase and create immense power for many of us. The possibilities are wonderful and amazing. But as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. There is an immediate task at hand to be addressed by technopreneurs, academia, thinkers, governments and civil society.

The real threat is not from AI which is only a piece of technology, actual danger is from the way individuals, corporations and nations are driven by self-centered goals. Can we handle such immense power in our chaotic and driven emotional state?

We need to create new paradigms in how we, humans, relate with each other. We must learn how to collaborate as “human race”. Our emotional intelligence will decide our future, not the IQ of thinking machines.

Mankind has to resolve its existential priorities before it is decided by something else. And the time to act is now!

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