Emotional matter: how cognitively empathetic AI will co-exist with humans

In a world that faces a data-overload and offers us technology wherever we go, the absence of artificial intelligence (AI) is simply unimaginable. We already experience artificially intelligent algorithms on our smartphones predicting our behaviour 24/7.

But how will our future life next to these intelligent machines be like if they would possess features of real human beings?


What is Artificial intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence imitates behaviours and actions of human beings. In fact, these machines possess different human traits such as our way of thinking, learning and problem solving, and, maybe in the future also empathy.

Caption hereTotal distortion: this is how my mathematically perfect face would look like according to AI

A real-life experience with AI

Lately, I visited the recently opened “Next Museum” in Amsterdam-North. The artificially intelligent camera of the installation “Biometric Mirror” analysed my character and I was enormously surprised by the results as it totally differed from the way of my and others’ perception of myself. It was shocking to see that the AI estimated me to be not trustworthy for 90%. How shockingly amusing this interactive installation might be; in the end the developers Lucy McRae and Dr Niels Wouters aim to show that AI based facial recognition algorithms are not always as accurate as they seem to be and have diverse flaws. This left me with the question in how far we can trust AI for protection and detection reasons or if we should rather distance ourselves from it to ensure our privacy and personal space. My curiosity for all the mystery around AI was born this exact day after the exhibition visit. 

“You can’t have ´human like’ intelligence without personality or emotions. People don`t change behaviour on information, they change it on emotion, emotional intelligence and empathy”

Why should AI have empathy?

“You can’t have ´human like’ intelligence without personality or emotions. People don`t change behaviour on information, they change it on emotion, emotional intelligence and empathy”, explains Steve Ardire, AI start-up Advisor. In fact, humans thrive on empathy and our emotions play a huge role regarding our intelligence; there are interdependencies between emotional and cognitive intelligence; certain neural systems are being shared. More specific, empathy is part of our self-awareness, social awareness, self-actualisation and transcendence. To get to the point: us humans are more emotional creatures than logical creatures. And this is why the biggest criticising factor so far is that AI can’t express how it made a certain decision because there is a lack of cognitive empathy which means understanding another person’s frame of reference. However, empathy can be learned and therefore experts are sure that AI machines will manage to become empathetic in the future. How could a few examples of pros and cons of empathetic AI be manifested? 

Opportunities of empathetic AI for society

Help in health care and new job opportunities. In the health care field, it is very important to be empathetic, especially when working with dementia patients. Caring for those patients can be emotionally very demanding and difficult; many nurses and doctors working with dementia patients develop burnouts. AI could help in terms of collecting data and creating personalised treatment plans, as well as monitoring the patients and supporting nurses with everyday care. An example for a with empathy programmed AI is the supercomputer “GRTA” which helps scientists of “Neberdine Pharmaceuticals“ to solve people’s behavioural and emotional problems, testing a new therapy.

In order to design AI with empathy, an “empathologist” would be needed. A job that is yet to exist. The empathologist would be responsible for the designing of an empathetic AI that could provide more natural interactions; it is important to really go beyond the superficial surface level of emotions. What I personally find really essential is the fact that an empathologist is mainly needed to ensure that the AI systems are being developed with not only a technology angle but a human angle which means that problems are being looked at from different perspectives through an empathologist in a technology development team.

Scientists are sure that AI will develop the ability of being empathetic in the next few years.

Threats and risks of empathetic AI for society

Influence on interpersonal relations and dependence. If AI had typical features of humans’ outward appearance and additionally human features like empathy, it could appear that some humans would establish an unhealthy relationship with the AI, even though the machine is only mimicking us humans. This disturbed relation with AI could be intensified through the dependence on empathetic AI.  We might rather listen to our artificially intelligent consultants for every single step in everyday life rather than to our fellow humans. From telling us which outfit to wear to helping us with our partner choices. Another consequence might be that our perception of human relationships and friendships might be blurred as our personal AI assistants might take over the roles of a friend or partner.


In my opinion the positive aspects of empathetic AI overweigh. But this is only the case as long as ethics are being respected and we have the control over the empathetic AI systems. Empathetic AI could co-exist with us in a peaceful and helpful manner. In the end even empathetic AI is only mimicking us humans, a machine will never really be able to really feel and give love; it “will always remind us what makes us human”, scientist Kai-Fu Lee once said.


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Brands and Innovation         Amsterdam Fashion Institute