SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Combatting loneliness with AI? It may be a slippery slope

May 10, 2023, 1:51 PM

A giant A and I are pictured -- would an AI chatbot replace human interaction?...

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JUNE 18: Cutting edge applications of Artificial Intelligence are seen on display at the Artificial Intelligence Pavilion of Zhangjiang Future Park during a state organized media tour on June 18, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — An advisory from the surgeon general last week put a spotlight on the epidemic of loneliness. The advisory comes at a time when artificial intelligence is increasingly present in everyday life, including places that are usually full of human interaction.

Survey Center on American Life Director Dan Cox wrote a piece focusing on the possible effects AI might have on loneliness.

“This is not something that we talk about an awful lot, but you know, AI is going to dramatically transform nearly every aspect of human society,” Cox told Inside Sources.

The concern, Cox said, is that AI will slowly replace both day-to-day human interaction as well as deeper connections, like friendships.

An illusion

Cox pointed to an AI chatbot, Replika, as an example of his concerns.

As the name suggests, the bot is meant to replicate human interaction. On its main page, the site says, “Replika is always ready to chat when you need an empathetic friend.”

It might be helpful, in a limited way, to ease loneliness Cox said. But because the interaction is a one-way street, the user doesn’t have to bring anything to the table.

“It doesn’t ask anything of me. It doesn’t require me to change or think about things differently in one way,” Cox said.

But those things are a cornerstone in building relationships.

AI interactions are an illusion, Cox said. An illusion that’ll only become more realistic as technology improves.

Although these types of chats are intriguing and seem fun, Cox worries that they’ll make people less willing to put in the work to build real, human connections.

What do we do?

AI isn’t going away, Cox said. And this kind of technology isn’t black and white, all good or all bad.

Cox said he thinks AI will actually prove to be a useful tool for “A whole lot of human endeavors.”

AI interactions, within limits, could even be a tool that benefits people who struggle with communication, Cox said.

Ultimately, we need to tread lightly. Cox said we should be careful that AI doesn’t replace the social interactions that connect us to each other.

Listen to the full Inside Sources segment:

 

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Combatting loneliness with AI? It may be a slippery slope