Emotional AI provides a new hope for our messed up relationship with technology

It's no secret that our relationship with technology is damaging our relationship with each other. But, ironically, one of the most advanced technologies we have might hold the key to solving the problem, writes The Works' Douglas Nicol.

We should all feel just a little guilt for our industry being the greatest proponents of technology and social media.

Our problems and imperfections have been privatised, hidden by social media and the pressure to be perfect. This is why often people are surprised when a relationship fractures and all too often you hear ‘I never saw that one coming’.

People have stopped ‘turning up’ for their closest relationships, instead they just text a love heart emoji. Mobile devices have left us sadder, lonelier and more anxious that ever before. Instagram gives the impression no one has any problems in their lives. Everything is perfect.

Relationship expert and keynote speaker at SXSW, Esther Perel, put it nicely when she pointed out that in ancient times humans lived in close proximity in villages and you could ‘hear every fight and every fuck’. There was a clear benchmark for ‘normal’ relationships and they were all imperfect.

Meanwhile, there is a distinct resistance from humans to embrace AI because of an understandable fear of losing their jobs. With Ubers’ autonomous trucks now rolling on the highways of Arizona, if I was a truck driver, or in many other AI disrupted jobs, I would be feeling pretty anxious about the future and what technology has done to me.

And Bitcoin and Ethereum have created a tool for extraordinary levels of fraud and criminal money laundering.

These are all things of our own creation; the smartphone; social media; cryptocurrencies and machine learning and it is the media and adverting industries which are often the purveyors of the technology dream, so we should feel a pang guilt and regret.

But there is a real hope that we can solve these problems and it comes in the form of a very human trait: emotion.

Emotional artificial intelligence will allow empathy to be the start and end- point for human relationships with machines. It is the promise of a new era where our emotional data, how we feel, our changing moods, our insecurities and our deceits all provide a much more human relationship with technology. And it is tipped to be a US$55B industry by 2022.

One of the drivers of emotional AI is the ongoing migration to voice and chatbot conversation interfaces where we are exposing our true emotions through our voice intonations and our choice of words and syntax. All indicators of our emotional state, providing a massive pipeline of rich emotion based data, the lifeblood of machine learning.

There are emotional AI companies such as Qntfy, that are developing some inspiring use cases in the field of chatbots and mental health support services. Many people actually prefer to talk to a machine that shows empathy and gives best practice support, rather than a human therapist because it’s an awkward topic to open up about. In the future emotional AI will allow mental health to be assessed more often across technology platforms and with greater accurate as to whether someone is suffering mental health issues.

At the marketing end of emotional AI use cases, it can be applied to customer journeys to overlay the state of mind and emotional needs of consumers and thus increase sales conversion rates and customer loyalty. The possibilities are, as they say, endless.

So the technology and devices in our lives that are causing the problems could ironically be the source of salvation and redemption for some of the unintended consequences of scientific progress. In the upcoming era of empathy, emotional AI could well make us all happier humans.

Douglas Nicol is founder and creative partner of On Message and partner at The Works.



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