Emotional AI - a reflection of ourselves

The next frontier in AI is to get everyone on the same page regarding emotional granularity. Instead of focusing on shortcuts and competition, we have a common goal: the future humans.

Doors are interesting. Depending on perspective, a door is an entrance or an exit. We can't be sure what lies ahead because some doors lead to nowhere. Doors mark change and are also seen as a communication channel. The idea of transition fascinated the Romans, who believed it was the work of a god. Janus, the two-faced custodian of the universe, was a door between past and future, right and wrong, peace and war.

With AI, we're no longer sitting on the threshold: the door is wide open. We're moving past the stage of marveling at it. AI is already here, in the cloud and at the edge. What used to be seen as sci-fi is quickly turning into reality:

  • Invisible decision-making helps us prioritize decisions and delegate them, sometimes without our supervision or input.

  • We can optimize our cognitive function via "neuro-priming" to think quicker, sharper, and feel more capable of sensing, parsing, and acting on the information.

  • Smart wearables, biointerfaces, and self-repairing materials are transforming the environment we inhabit. 

  • Thought detection and emotional AI analyze our complex cognitive states based on vocal and facial signals to detect what we are thinking and soon predict how we will act. 

  • As machines learn to experience authentic human emotions such as joy, happiness, fear, and empathy, digital assistants will increasingly become a part of our lives. 

AI is touching all aspects of our lives and what it is to be human. One of the biggest challenges is to realize that current AI models can reproduce the existing biases and inequalities of the real world. Why is this happening? It would be irresponsible to blame anyone but us. We design AI loaded with many of our biases, hundreds of years of racial discrimination, gender inequality, religious persecution, etc. Instead of improving our lives, it is not far-fetched to see that AI can reinforce our limitations.

Currently, a lot of attention and resources go into the technological advancements on strong AI and Machine Learning. We are so invested in building stuff that we forget to look inward at the human condition. Topics like trust, transparency, ethics are super-critical to realize the full potential of AI in a good way. But investments in these areas are still disproportionate. We have a lot to learn about ourselves before we step into a new era. As AI matures, we need to find the means to grow alongside it. Technology isn't here to replace us. It is a tool to augment our capabilities, and it is up to us to use it in the right way.

"I am Mother," a Netflix production, is not your typical dystopian sci-fi movie. The cast is very small and rather unusual for this genre - two women and a droid. Yet, a lot happens as few elements collide intensely: 

  • The enclosure: The setting is a high-tech facility after a dramatic event that led to human extinction. We hear metal sounds, melodies, silences, and a persistent echo of a walking droid, the AI-powered "Mother." It and the "Daughter," APX03, are trapped inside. The world outside is lifeless.

  • The limits: The droid is tasked to give humanity a second chance, one that begins with Daughter. AI must understand a complex range of human emotions to raise a more evolved human being. Like a mother, it loves and cares for her child. And like a person, it feels jealous and rejected when a rival human mother figure arrives at the facility.  

"My primary directive is to care for humanity." Mother, AI

  • The subjectivity: Everyone lies about pretty much everything (Mother lies about the nature of the experiment, Daugther lies about her encounter with the visitor, and the woman lies about the world outside). Yet, we are more forgiving towards the women than we are to the AI. It is weird and unexpected to see a droid that has mastered so well the human skill of deception. 

  • The conflict: In the movie, we experience the sharp contrast between harm and care, human and machine, truth and lie, inside and outside. And with conflict, the world begins to expand as the story unfolds. 

Like the Romans, I want to step through the door that leads to a new journey, full of possibilities and challenges. But how will I know if I am ready? As I was watching the movie, I started to reflect on some difficult questions.

#1. Will we use technology to create a more evolved society?

"I don't want to be a human. They ruined everything." Female, APX01

The danger that AI may widen inequality is very real. We already see the impact of asymmetry of power. People with access to AI can work more efficiently and have a starting advantage over those who don't have such access or skills. AI will only widen the gap that already exists in some communities and populations, even between countries.

Even though the movie is a dystopia, there is a glimpse of hope. Daughter learns to be empathic and altruistic in the absence of a human community. She makes the difficult decision to come back to look after her baby brother and the rest of the 62,996 embryos. To what extent she will fulfill her mission is left to our imagination.

The AI we build today should reflect who we aspire to be but not neglect who we are.

#2. Can we prioritize the future instead of falling for immediate gains?  

No one has cracked human longevity yet, but we already see the rise of products that might outlive us: century bonds (JP Morgan), 100-year hoodie with a 100-year payment plan (Vollebak), forever guarantee (Buck Knives since 1902). Before we try to modify our DNA in any way, we must accept that the world and some of our creations will outlive us.

But to create more sustainable and long-lasting products, we need a responsible approach. AI could help us develop new materials that preserve existing resources and restore vulnerable ecosystems. AI is not the solution to our problems, but it can give us the support we need to respond faster to change.

We see how Mother is driven by different paraments, always thinking about the future. The droid takes time to learn how to raise a better, smarter, and more ethical human, a future human. Such responsibility comes with significant ethical issues and many areas of ambiguity. Good intentions don't always lead to good outcomes for everyone. Tending to human feelings puts AI in a stump. After all, how can we hope it can deal with the messiest aspect of human experience when we are having a hard time facing it ourselves?

#3. Why do we struggle to shift our mindset? 

It is hard to find two people who agree on what a utopian society will look like. But we can recognize one that is broken. We don't have a uniform definition of freedom, yet we are quick to notice when our rights are breached. We should use dystopia as a platform for dialogue and a critical debate on pressing and controversial topics. It can warn us against some elements that may pose a threat (biases in AI, AI ethics, free will, trust, etc.).

In the movie, AI couldn't stand to watch humanity slowly succumb to its self-destructive nature. It felt compelled to intervene and elevate its creators. It teaches us an important lesson: the choices we don't make are made for us. How do we move towards a future that is not regrettable? We may need more than a leap of faith.

#4. Can we all agree on the next frontier?

"It's more productive to offer directions to someone who has already decided to go on the journey. "How do I get there?" is a much easier transaction than "you must go." Seth Godin

Companies and nations are already heavily investing in AI as a strategic imperative. The next step is to get everyone on the same page regarding the emotional aspects of AI. Instead of focusing on shortcuts, competition, and scarcity, we share a common goal, the future human. If we want AI to evolve, we must increase our emotional granularity to overcome our limitations. As we deepen our relationship with the world, we can make more responsible choices. 

For now, AI learns and develops on existing data and human input, which is filled with our hopes and fears. With the fast advancements, we are building a new world full of possibilities. Daughter left the door wide open to step in when we feel ready to become the future humans we aspire to be. The question is, are we curious, ready, and wise enough to see past our self-limiting beliefs? 


“I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson