AI: A Friend With Benefits?

Photo By Joe Pizzio Source: Unsplash

Photo By Joe Pizzio
Source: Unsplash

Artificial intelligence is starting to get personal. AI based assistants such as Google Now, Siri, Alexa, Cortana are part of our daily lives through online services and a range of apps. Putting productivity and technical considerations aside, it is worth focusing on what this development in AI will mean for us personally, what is our long-term relationship with this new virtual world and is it a good thing?

This idea of exploring our personal relationships with AI based systems and their impact on us has inspired films like ‘Her’ starring Joaquin Phoenix where he falls in love with his talking operating system, or AI where a robotic boy is adopted as a test case to explore to how human machines and robots interact with each other. These personal themes are more relevant to figuring out how AI will change our lives rather than the global domination themes associated with intelligent machines in Terminator or the Matrix.  

While we might not be at the level of machine intelligence conjured up by Hollywood, there are some emerging real-world technologies in use today which can shed some light on our personal relationship with emerging AI.  

There are several studies showing how virtual coaches can positively impact on our behaviour and habits. One such study on weight loss from the Centre for Connected Health is quite interesting. It found that overweight patients using a virtual coach providing personalized feedback lost significantly more weight than participants trying to lose weight without virtual coaching. Digging a little deeper into the research, those using a virtual coach kept up their exercise program over the course of the 12-week study, while those without saw their exercise intensity levels decrease over the 12 weeks. Individuals using the virtual coach reported feeling guilty if they skipped an online appointment. The personal connection here is interesting. AI led feedback and scheduling delivered in a personal context seemed to make a real individual difference.

If we think about this a little more and imagine if we could converse with Artificial Intelligence beyond simple text commands or data inputs from wearables. If we could feed AI video chat, our emails, instant messages and voice conversations, it could really ‘get to know’ us. AI systems could then begin to do things like emotion sensing where it could detect emotions and intents based on tone of voice and speech patterns, making interactions richer and more effective.

Such capabilities make it possible to develop AI systems that mimic interactions with real world coaches, therapists or even friends. It could determine when we are stressed, tired, bored or excited. AI will be able to tap into our emotional intelligence and inspire us to improve the quality of our lives. This can be done through interpreting our emotions, providing personal feedback, integrating that into our daily schedule or habits, keeping us on track, just like the weight loss example.

This emotionally aware technology is already in use in call centre environments and is being plugged into many other systems by services like Viv, from the guys who created Siri.

In 110% we are using this technology to understand and accelerate the personal development of professionals across a range of sectors.

We already have a strong personal connection to our technology. The fear of being separated from one’s phone, a condition known as Nomophobia, is on the rise.

Research has shown that 77 percent of those aged between 18 and 24 say they feel anxious if they become separated from their mobile phone. If our devices become ‘alive’ and ‘get to know’ us via AI technology, it will have far-reaching consequences for how we relate to our devices. Nomophobia might become the new normal.

We are at the vanguard of a new type of AI based ‘living’ technology, taking on new roles as companion, confidant, coach and ‘friend’.  Personalised, emotional engagement with technology is already a reality and is being driven forward by technological leaders such as IBMs Watson or Google’s Cognitive Services, among many others. These artificial intelligences will allow us to develop technology which will be with us whenever we need it, keeping us company, supporting us personally or professionally. AI will become our ‘friend’ and hopefully with a lot of benefits.