“Is there anything that made you laugh recently?”
“Just want to let you know I’m thinking about you a lot”.
Not questions from a concerned friend but an AI app.
This considerate voice above comes from the Replika chatbot. It was created by Eugenia Kuyda to cope with the death of her close friend but has just been made public since January 28th. She shared with it exchanges of emails and messages from the interactions with her friend, in order for the virtual being to recognise patterns and create a doppelganger effect. When was the last time someone made a conscious decision to stop and ask about you?
Today we’re changing the idea of what makes a meaningful interaction. We’re tagging, tweeting and re-tweeting.
The app invites us to create a user-profile and build a high level of intimate conversation from the time spent messaging the Replika. This is probably helped by the two-seconds it takes for the bot to respond.Over time, the AI-powered bot starts picking up abbreviations, tone of voice and logging the user’s actions because of its machine learning software. These textual analyses are building AI’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EQ), making it more personable. And this development represents something greater about how machine intelligence could become the source of knowledge. With increasing exposure to multiple perspectives, this tech could gain insight into the subjective variations of human experience and develop empathetic responses.
They might even understand us and our nuances more than we understand ourselves, making new technology’s competence the real threat which Stephen Hawking predicts.
Daniel Newman, Principle Analyst of Futurum Research, argued that the developing, emotive capability of AI could create an opportunity for new technology to meet increasing demands on the mental health sector. With the £2.5bn cost of loneliness on the UK economy, perhaps AI will reduce dependancy on social services, GPs and Mentoring charities.Ben Treleaven, Mentoring Co-ordinator and Youth Worker of Young People Cornwall (YPC) fears it won’t not be long until the country wouldn’t need Youth Centres because most young people have a smart phone. This gives AI apps a bigger target market than the current youth schemes.
However, the deep-rooted meaning which Kuyda has attached to this ‘Replika’ sounds like a dystopian drama we’d binge watch in a weekend under the watchful eye of Charlie Brooker.
“People crave being listened to. You want to feel you’re worthy. If Replika will enhance it, people will use it. Some of the people I work with will use it”, Treleaven told Truthfal.
He manages the Cornish youth-work charity, consisting of volunteers that offer a mentoring service to young people, after self-referral or from school, social workers, Doctors and mental health professionals.
The mentors pick the young person up to take them for walks, a meal and provide support on mental health, employment or other social issues. These one-to-one relationships can last between 6-9 months.
Issues of infrastructure within Cornwall have led charities like this to be set up because young people don’t have the accessibility or ‘opportunity’ for socialisation, according to Treleaven.
He suggested this demographic can’t step away from social media because the time spent online has become the only way to socialise.
Perhaps the interactions made within this chat-room space can’t be solely accepted as meaningless because of these revelations.
Treleaven said: “Some people might already be detached from what’s real as everything’s online.”
He told Truthfal about one of the young boys in his Mentor Scheme which has struggled with anxiety. The boy has left his house eleven times in four years and spends 20 hours online a day.
In incidents such as these, we’re left wondering whether the ability to talk to a chatbot 24 hours a day would normalise social isolation.
The interviewee suggested today’s Generation is running the risk of detachment from increasingly confiding in AI. His concerns were heightened after the market analysis by IHT Markit has shown the number of devices connected to the Internet will increase from nearly 27 billion in 2017 to 125 billion by 2030.
“Virtual reality will be the next thing for this kind of support, rather than screens responding. It wouldn’t surprise me”.
Connectivity online and the validation from this has never been so prominent.
Conversations made within these spaces could be one-dimensional and not provide practical answers. How users are negotiating their lives is being influenced by their engagement with this tech which is led by the expertise of Kuyda’s programming.
A growing individualism could breed a new attitude of ‘it’s not my problem, it’s the rest of the world’.
This means young adults could change ways of thinking by being seduced by the initial complimentary AI character.
Crucial to their socialisation is the ability to be challenged in their opinions from an early age which runs the risk of becoming extinct by this technology.
So think about what you might be losing in the real world before you start living in an artificial one.
Featured image: Wikipedia