HomeTech Could AI help cure the “downward spiral” of human loneliness?

Could AI help cure the “downward spiral” of human loneliness?

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Could AI help cure the "downward spiral" of human loneliness?

hOllywood may have warned about the dangers of entering into relationships with artificial intelligence, but one computer scientist says we may be missing a trick if we don’t embrace the positives that human-machine relationships have to offer.

Despite the travails of Joaquin Phoenix’s introverted, soon-to-be-divorced protagonist in the 2013 film Her, One professor says we should be open to the conveniences chatbots can provide.

Tony Prescott, professor of cognitive robotics at the University of Sheffield, argues that AI plays an important role in preventing human loneliness. Just as we develop meaningful bonds with pets and have no qualms about children playing with dolls, we should also be open to the value of AI for adults, he says.

“At a time when many people describe their lives as lonely, there can be value in the company of AI as a form of reciprocal social interaction that is stimulating and personalized,” Prescott writes in a new book, The Psychology of Artificial Intelligence.

Prescott believes AI could become a valuable tool for people on the brink of social isolation to hone their social skills by practicing conversations and other interactions. The exercises would help build self-confidence, she suggests, and thus reduce the risk of people withdrawing from society completely.

Scarlett Johansson played an AI that Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with in the 2013 film Her. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

“Human loneliness is often characterized by a downward spiral in which isolation leads to lower self-esteem, which discourages further interaction with people,” Prescott writes. “There may be ways AI company could help break this cycle by strengthening feelings of self-worth and helping maintain or improve social skills. If so, relationships with AIs could help people find companionship with other humans and artificials.”

The magnitude of the problem of loneliness has become clear in recent years. In the UK, more than 7%, or almost four million peopleThey are known to experience chronic loneliness, meaning they feel alone often or always. According to a 2021 Harvard StudyMore than a third of Americans feel “severe loneliness,” and some of the hardest hit are young adults and mothers with young children.

The knock-on effects on well-being are also better understood. Last year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy described a “loneliness and isolation epidemic”and its profound impact on public health. Loneliness is linked to more heart disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death, with an impact on mortality equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, she said. If the problem is not addressed, she added, the United States “will continue to divide and divide until we can no longer be a community or a country.”

So it’s a much more varied picture than the one depicted in the movie Her, where Phoenix finds love in the most unlikely of places: a disembodied AI voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Whether AI can or should be part of the solution is not a new debate. Sherry Turkle, a professor of social sciences at MIT, warned that forming relationships with machines could backfire and lead people to have fewer secure and satisfying human relationships.

Christina Victor, professor of gerontology and public health at Brunel University, has similar concerns. “I doubt it (AI) will address loneliness, and I would question whether connections through AI can ever be meaningful, as our social connections are often framed by reciprocity and give older adults the opportunity to contribute.” as well as receiving,” he said.

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Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University in North Carolina, said: “Right now, all the evidence points to having a close human friend as the best solution to loneliness. But until society prioritizes social connectivity, robots will be a solution for the millions of people who don’t have friends.

“We must be careful to incorporate rules that ensure they are moral and trustworthy, and that privacy is protected.”

But Prescott maintains that the risks must be weighed against the potential benefits. “Although AIs cannot provide friendship in the same way as other humans, not all relationships we find valuable are symmetrical,” she writes.

Researchers may soon know whether people are turning to AI for companionship. Technology companies are creating chatbots to be increasingly fluid and responsive to emotions. This week it emerged that OpenAI asked Johansson to be the voice of its latest chatbot, GPT-4o, to “help consumers feel comfortable.” Johansson refused, but the chatbot was launched with a voice that his friends and family thought was his. OpenAI has since discontinued the voice option “out of respect for Ms. Johansson.”

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