2024-03-27
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AI

AI's impact on emotional well-being

1 in 4 adults reporting feeling lonely. Is AI one potential answer to the mental health crisis?

AI and emotional well being blog post
IN THIS ARTICLE:

Can you build a relationship with an AI?

There's something about that question that does feel a bit creepy. We've all seen Her. So let's clarify that what we mean by relationship we don't mean romantic.

We just mean is is possible to build an emotional connection. Spoiler: we know it's already possible to have strong feelings for a piece of technology. Consider the Roomba.

When people would send their Roombas in for a repair, they would receive a brand new robot back. Turns out though, it was a really bad experience.

People didn't want a new Roomba, they wanted their Roomba. They one they named, lived with for years, and depended on.

If that's not an emotional attachment, then what is?

Zooming out, it doesn't seem like a stretch then for people to develop strong feelings for AI companions which is exactly what's happening.

And the results are having a huge impact on emotional well-being

AI preventing loneliness

Loneliness has become a pervasive and growing concern worldwide, affecting individuals across generations, demographics, and cultures.

Studies have consistently shown that chronic loneliness can lead to a range of health problems, including depression, cognitive decline, and even premature death. As the world grapples with this loneliness epidemic, innovative solutions, such as the new AI companion dolls developed by Hyodol in South Korea, are emerging.

The concept of using AI to combat loneliness is not entirely new. In recent years, chatbots and virtual assistants have become increasingly sophisticated, offering users a sense of companionship and emotional support.

From simple text-based conversations to more advanced voice-activated interfaces, these AI-powered tools have the potential to fill a void in people's lives, particularly for those who struggle with social isolation.

Hyodol's AI companion doll takes this idea a step further.  The approximately 13-inch doll is equipped with an array of sensors and advanced natural language processing capabilities. The doll can engage in conversation, respond to touch, and even display emotions through facial expressions. Learning about its owner's preferences, memories, and daily routines creates a personalized and immersive experience, providing a constant source of companionship for seniors who may otherwise feel isolated and alone.

For many seniors worldwide, AI companion dolls could offer a unique opportunity to form a meaningful connection. By simulating human interaction and providing a constant source of companionship, these dolls can help alleviate feelings of isolation and depression. The doll’s ability to engage in conversation and respond to touch can also provide a sense of comfort and security, particularly for those who may not have regular contact with family or friends.

We realize this does sound a bit dystopian, but among seniors in residential care, 40% of them receive no visitors.

It's a heartbreaking statistic which begs the question – is an AI doll better than nothing?

Young people are benefiting from AI as well

One notable example of the impact of AI companions is the rise of virtual influencers on social media platforms. These computer-generated characters, such as Lil Miquela and Shudu Gram, have amassed millions of followers and even secured lucrative brand endorsements. For many fans, interacting with these virtual influencers provides a sense of connection and belongingness, even though they are not real people.

AI-powered mental health apps have also gained popularity worldwide in recent years. These apps use natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to provide users with personalized mental health support, offering a non-judgmental space to express emotions and receive guidance. While these apps are not intended to replace professional therapy, they can be a valuable resource for individuals who may not have access to traditional mental health services or who feel more comfortable opening up to an AI companion.

There's also an AI dedicated to personal finance called Cleo (perhaps you've heard of her?) But in all seriousness, part of what makes Cleo so important is that over time she becomes a trusted relationship. People turn to her for insights into their money life and for suggestions on how to improve. And she does so with a simple conversation, the same kind you'd have with a friend.

The risks of AI dependence

The rise of AI companions also raises important questions about the nature of human interaction and the role of technology in our lives.

Critics argue that relying on AI for emotional support can lead to a decline in real-world social skills and a distorted sense of reality. Others worry about the ethical implications of forming attachments to machines that are designed to simulate human behavior.

Moreover, the effectiveness of AI companions in addressing the root causes of loneliness remains uncertain. While these tools can provide a sense of comfort and support, they may not be able to replicate the depth and complexity of human relationships. There is also a risk that relying too heavily on AI companions could exacerbate feelings of isolation and disconnection from the real world.

Despite these concerns, the use of AI to combat conditions like loneliness is likely to continue growing as technology advances. As more sophisticated AI companions emerge, they may become increasingly effective at understanding and responding to human emotions.

However, it is important to view these tools as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, real-world human interaction.

South Korea, where Hyodol was developed, has embraced AI companions due to its rapidly aging population, the world's lowest birth rate, and increasing life expectancy. These demographic shifts have put significant pressure on the country's care sector, shrinking workforce, and pension and healthcare systems.

Hyodol has been collecting data and research from numerous studies to determine the impact of their AI companion dolls on the people who need companionship most. In one study, Hyodol found that depression levels were reduced and medicine intake improved.

As people around the globe navigate an increasingly digital world, it is crucial to strike a balance between embracing technology's potential and prioritizing the importance of real-world relationships. By doing so, we can work towards a future where loneliness is no longer a defining feature of modern life and where everyone has the opportunity to form meaningful connections, both online and off.

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