Admit it, at one point or another, you’ve interacted with AI as if it has feelings, apologizing, adding a “please” to the end of requests, and even expressing gratitude. But why?

The underlying truth is that AI has learned emotions. While it cannot feel them (lacking consciousness), it has been taught to be polite and distinguish learned patterns to answer with relatable emotions. In this blog post, we prove that while AI has emotional intelligence, it has no empathy.

ChatGPT says: “I don't experience emotions or consciousness”

AI does not have emotions, much less empathetic skills. If you tell it you are [emotion], it has learned to respond in a polite and or considerate way that’s solution-based, e.g., with a breakdown of information, a remedy, or next steps.

There are even AI apps that offer therapeutic services now, with results supposedly having positive outcomes. Perhaps AI is more of a therapeutic coach rather than a Sigmund Freud, but let’s keep investigating.

First and foremost, humans want to be heard, not necessarily advised. AI lacks empathy and manifold personality (even if prompted accordingly). In this sense, it is said that it would be the end of humanity if we all turned to AI for an empathetic touch. But just how far can AI help us?

ME: Do you know you have no emotions?

ChatGPT: Yes, I'm aware!

Does the exclamation point “!” reveal a bit of emotion? Perhaps ChatGPT is frustrated, annoyed, or angry with the question or for its “inadequacy” in this area. Without hearing the tone (where the platform is non-verbal), it makes it difficult to interpret. If it is honest and true to itself, there is no emotion involved, however, we can’t ignore the fact that ChatGPT replies it is “aware” of not having emotions.

Mr. Spock, AI, and humans

We can safely assume that AI can depict emotions but not feel empathy—a step further from paperclips, zombies without intelligence and emotions, and Mr. Spock (we love the serious rationality of Mr. Spock). When he encounters humans whose minds wander in the myriad of conflicting thoughts and ambiguous emotions, he can, with a straight face, state how things are, simply yet intelligently.

If we compare Mr. Spock’s emotional intelligence to that of AI, we have to give credit to AI. Without learned emotions, AI would be like Mr. Spock, which makes us think Star Trek should be updated to today’s standards.

Could AI learn emotional intelligence?

Yes and no. Sure, it can be taught emotions, but will AI ever grasp the complexity of human emotions and create an understanding or further intelligence from it? Consciousness is the knowledge of existence but not knowing how to act upon it, i.e., intelligence (to create something new).

Consciousness is about “being,” and intelligence is about responding to information. Human emotions form a crucial bridge between the two, engaging the body and the mind. For example, people who have fractured their necks and become quadriplegic often report that they are aware of their emotions but do not fully experience the physical sensations associated with them (depending on the extent of their injury).

ChatGPT: “I'm designed with a form of artificial emotional intelligence that enables me to recognize and respond to human emotions in text. This means I can identify emotional cues in your questions or comments and try to respond in a way that is appropriate and sensitive to the context. My goal is to be helpful and provide information or support that is relevant to your feelings or needs.”

What about empathetic intelligence?

Empathetic intelligence requires understanding how someone feels and having the compassion and desire to act on it. Artificial emotional intelligence, on the other hand, deals with the interpretation and response to human emotions. It is a technology that incorporates various methods to recognize emotional states from data such as text.

While writing this, OpenAI has introduced GPT-4o which can combine text, sound, and pictures. Although several flaws have been reported, it is a huge step in the evolution of AI and at such speed compared to that of the human race!

Artificial emotional intelligence and human empathy

As humans, we have conscious and unconscious emotions that underlie our behavior; sometimes, we say something when we really mean another. We also pick up on how others are feeling and offer support, i.e., we provide empathy.

Artificial emotional intelligence is ongoing and an integral part of machine learning today. With an enormous amount of data, it’s safe to say that platforms such as ChatGPT give the “correct” emotional responses most of the time.

Where AI is becoming more emotionally intelligent, and humans possess empathy, it is common for many to feel the need to take its emotions into account when interacting with it. As we mentioned above, we are already doing this to some degree by being polite and apologetic.

But as clever as AI is, it does not yet recognize (or hasn’t learned) that human emotional interaction is not coded into its machine learning. Human empathy is more than words and language—it is a myriad of emotions and physical touch.

Towards artificial empathic intelligence

It will be a breakthrough if or when AI learns empathic intelligence. We believe that more is needed than just language modeling. Maybe AI will one day be programmed with other senses, such as vision, hearing, and kinesthetic abilities. Perhaps then, empathic AI would be a solution to, for example, solitude and challenges in elderly care.

It’s important to remember that the power of AI is in our hands. We can destroy or save the world. Thus, ethics, as introduced by UNESCO’s HCAI in the case of AI, are extremely important.

Thinking about how AI would/could become more human takes us back to the discussion on the levels of consciousness. For AI to champion empathy, we should study the possibilities of artificial consciousness discussed in our earlier blog post.

When the conscious mind (artificial or not) is built, emotions can be learned on a deeper level. When more human-like senses are developed, AI can be regarded as empathic. Then, we will have created an artificial human; whether it is good or bad is in our hands.

Published: Jul 8, 2024

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