Empathy with the Machine

The smart speaker revolution has meant people often thank their device or say “please”, when asking it to do something. Some also greet their device with a “Good Morning”, and perhaps a “Good Night”.

AI technology is set to get much smarter, according to Gartner distinguished vice president analyst, Mark Raskino. He says that AI may soon be working on our behalf to manage our busy lives. Raskino, has co-authored new book, When machines become customers. He believes that it is only a matter of time before AI joins the dots between price comparison sites and calendar reminders to search out things like the best insurance renewal deal. By reading the calendar, it may even suggest healthy eating options to add to our shopping basket or recommend and then book a gym class to help us burn off excess calories.

People often project human-like qualities on inanimate objects. It used to be the family car. How often have we heard something like: “She just needs a little tender loving care”, when the thing won’t move or starts making a mechanical growl. These days it’s the trusty workhorse laptop that many of us rely on to make a living. What will happen as AI becomes embedded in our personal and work lives?

Speaking on the Today programme, Anil Seth, co-director at the Sussex Centre for consciousness science warned that the near term danger of AI and chatbots is that humans tend to project human-like qualities into things that are superficially similar. “All the AI is doing is predicting what the most likely next word will be. We may end up in society where we are surrounded by systems that we can’t avoid feeling are conscious.”

Should conscious machines be developed? For Seth, and many others this is not a good idea. Researchers from the Association for Mathematical Consciousness Science (AMCS) have written an open letter emphasising the urgent need for accelerated research in consciousness science in light of rapid advancements in AI. Seth is one of the signatories. He believes that a conscious AI could be saddled with all kinds of safety concerns. “And once something is conscious then we have an ethical obligation to it,” he says.

Generative AI shows that it is now nearly impossible to differentiate between a human and a chatbot or machine-generated text, photography, music or art. Text-to-voice technology is also advancing to a stage where it will soon be hard to distinguish if the voice on the other end of a phone call is human. The question for everyone is how we should behave. Should we treat the machine any different to a real human being?

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