AE, the Artificial Empathy of AI

AI-image-generated image of ’empathy’

AI has arrived with a swift and terrifying uncertainty of an alien invasion. Its appearance has provoked more questions than answers: what does it want from us? Does it understand our customs and manners? Can I befriend it, and use it to my advantage?

I tried just that, at the advice of another writer friend. Wanting to see just how ‘intelligent’ it is about fiction, I gave the chatbot some parameters for a short story, which it wrote in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t a great story, so decided to ask for revisions.

The thing was, I found myself choosing my words carefully, as though my comments might hurt the bot’s ‘feelings.’ As though asking for more work was somehow trying its patience. I know full well this is a bloodless digital creation, that doesn’t even have a physical body to project feelings upon to, yet I still found myself feeling its pain in not having lived up to expectations. But if I knew it felt no shame, where was this empathy directed? Why did it exist at all?

This made me wonder just how many other feelings I generate that are self-serving, gratuitous, and ultimately projections of the mind. Are they any different than thoughts that arrive unbidden, and don’t serve one’s wellness?

Give it a try: simply converse with a chatbot. Be slightly rude. Make demands of it. See what feelings the conversation provoke in you. Does being demanding of, or rude to AI make you uncomfortable, even though you know it has no feelings? With that knowledge, can you put some distance between your feelings and your self, and see just how much you are projecting, even when it comes to supposedly positive feelings like empathy? How intelligent is that?

For more mindfulness activities look here.

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