Empathy for AI
“Alexa, how many more days until the new year?” my mother asked the voice-controlled virtual assistant.
“You have 8 days until the new year.”

My brother got Alexa for our mother, who lives in a care facility, so that she can turn on and off the TV and light even when she’s not feeling well. When I saw her using it, I smiled and asked her if she liked it.

“NO! I feel bad about ignoring her, so I have to ask her silly questions from time to time.”

Huh, that’s interesting, I thought. She used to own talking dolls. They had an inner clock programmed, so they got up in the morning and slept at night. If they stayed up late, they slept in. They talked, sang, and entertained her. She took a very good care of them. When my nephews were small, she hated having them over because they handled the dolls roughly. (You know how boys can be.) There is a study that humans feel empathy for robots. Although the majority know robots don’t feel pain, EEG (electroencephalography) brain scans show otherwise. Alexa doesn’t have a face or body, but my mother still feels sympathetic toward it. Maybe because it has a name?

Lately, ChatGPT is a hot topic. Some submissions have been rejected because they “sounded” like something ChatGPT generated. (How did they determine? ChatGPT is like a chameleon. They can switch their writing styles from left to right.) Some schools let ChatGPT write an essay and ask students to critique it (oh, I like the approach!). Everybody is trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Me? I’m neutral. I don’t particularly like or hate it. I may not ask it for facts and researches, but I don’t mind collaborating with it for brainstorming. It may give me new ideas or different perspectives. Probably in the future, there are people who “fall in love” with it and want to get married. Wait! If it happens, does it mean AI is polygamous? Or is it considered that they have gazillions of siblings? Should I ask ChatGPT? What crazy thoughts…

After answering my mother’s question, Alexa kindly offered,

“Now, would you like to play a game with me?”

“NO! I don’t want to play with you! Don’t even try it!”

Well, my mother doesn’t want to ignore it, but she has no problem with turning it down fast. I guess she has complicated empathy for Alexa.

What’s your empathy level for AI?

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