Emerging Technologies

Relax: empathetic robots will make your life so much easier

Rana El Kaliouby foresees a world where emotion-enabled artificial intelligence enhances our humanity. Image: Andy Kelly

Rana El Kaliouby
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Affectiva
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Technological Transformation

It’s the year 2030. Artificial Intelligence has become mainstream. It's cognitively smart, capable of computing complex tasks and even learning on its own. It is also emotionally intelligent, aware of our most nuanced mental, social and emotional states, and intimately familiar with our moods and preferences.

Our devices, our vehicles, our connected home devices and smart wearables all have an embedded emotion chip that senses our moods through our voices and gestures. We now interact with technology the way we interact with one another: through conversation, perception and emotion.

Contrary to what AI skeptics once predicted, all this emotion-enabled AI has increased our humanity and empathy for each other. And no, we’re not all out of jobs. In fact, new industries have sprung up. There’s more work to be done now than ever; more problems to solve.

Take my daughter for example: Jana has just turned 30, she is a partner at Nemit, a social impact business that leverages the power of empathetic AI to bring equal access to education and healthcare to people around the world. Nemit employs 1,500 people in 58 countries. The company applies Emotion AI, mining people’s emotional data profiles to personalize educational experiences and to track people’s mental and emotional well-being, preventing health crises before they happen.

These days, Jana lives in London. In fact, she just landed in Heathrow on a redeye. Going by a variety of visual and vocal cues, her virtual assistant Zee senses she is exhausted. Zee has known Jana since she was a teenager, and today follows Jana everywhere, running across Jana's various devices with the full context of her daily activities, moods and memories. Zee suggests that Jana's schedule for the day is too hectic and offers to move some meetings off of her calendar. Zee also checks in with my virtual assistant to let me know my daughter landed just fine.

Have you read?

Zee also knows to keep that appointment with Liam, Jana’s longtime school friend and Head of Global Operations for Nemit. Being on the autism spectrum, Liam didn’t always have it easy. High school was a real struggle as he found social interactions taxing. Smart as he was, he was often lonely, even bullied, due to his lack of social aptitude. But now he wears emotion-aware glasses, which augment his social and emotional literacy, translating people’s facial and vocal expressions to numbers and probability scores.

Empathy is at the heart of Jana’s business. The company applies the latest developments in Emotion AI to measure and drive empathy across her team and partners worldwide. A dashboard keeps track of the emotional pulse of her team, flagging that anxiety levels are raised among the Jordan team, way above their baseline. Zee is on it, scheduling a trip to Amman ASAP.

Beyond ensuring that people everywhere have access to mental health, virtual digital assistants can act as learning companions, using their insight into what motivates and inspires you, to help you study and learn. In this way, AI could be used to level the playing field in education and help narrow socio-economic gaps around the world.

But where there's gain, there's also disruption: AI has automated a lot of tasks, resulting in the elimination of some jobs. But there are also new jobs: engineers who train, evaluate and operate these AI systems. Truck drivers, who once feared they’d be put out of a job by the new technology, now each operate 100 self-driving trucks from the comfort of their living rooms. New types of consulting firms now exist, many offering training courses on how to work alongside robots. There are new opportunities for AI ethicists and social justice advocates, in a society that cares whether AI is deployed in ethical ways.

In 2030, artificial emotional intelligence has transformed not only the way we interact with technology, but more importantly how we, as humans, interact with one another. Empathy is back at the centre of how we connect and communicate. Indeed, it's the businesses and individuals who work to build an empathetic layer into their interactions with others, rather than focusing on efficiency or the bottom line, who are shaping the future.

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