Home Health News Will Humans Partner Up With AI To Help Cure Loneliness?

Will Humans Partner Up With AI To Help Cure Loneliness?

Ever imagined what relationships with artificial intelligence would look like? According to scientists we might be missing out on its potential if we do not embrace the positives that it has to offer. According to a report by the Guardian, Tony Prescott, professor of cognitive robotics at the University of Sheffield, has argued that AI has a crucial role to play in preventing human loneliness. He said that we should be open to the value of AI to adults. 

In his book, The Psychology of Artificial Intelligence, Prescott said, “In an age when many people describe their lives as lonely, there may be value in having AI companionship as a form of reciprocal social interaction that is stimulating and personalised.”

Prescott believes AI could serve as a valuable resource for individuals on the verge of social isolation, helping them improve their social skills through conversation practice and other interactions. He suggests that these exercises could boost self-confidence, thereby reducing the likelihood of people withdrawing from society completely.

He wrote, “Human loneliness is often characterised by a downward spiral in which isolation leads to lower self-esteem, which discourages further interaction with people. There may be ways in which AI companionship could help break this cycle by scaffolding feelings of self-worth and helping maintain or improve social skills. If so, relationships with AIs could support people to find companionship with human and artificial others.”

Increase In Loneliness

The extent of the loneliness problem has become increasingly apparent in recent years. According to the Guardian, in the UK, over 7 per cent, or nearly four million people, experience chronic loneliness, meaning they feel lonely often or always. A Harvard study from 2021 revealed that more than a third of Americans suffer from “serious loneliness,” with young adults and mothers with small children being some of the most affected groups.

The knock-on effects on well-being are also better understood now. Last year, the US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, highlighted an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” and its profound impact on public health. Loneliness is associated with higher risks of heart disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. Murthy noted that the impact on mortality is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. He added that the failure to address the problem would see the US “continuing to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country.”

The debate over whether AI can or should be part of the solution to loneliness is not new. As per the Guardian, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social science at MIT, has cautioned that forming relationships with machines could backfire, potentially leading to fewer secure and fulfilling human relationships.

Christina Victor, a professor of gerontology and public health at Brunel University, shares similar concerns. The Guardian quoted her as saying, “I doubt [AI] would address loneliness, and I would question whether connections via AI can ever be meaningful, as our social connections are often framed by reciprocity and give older adults an opportunity to contribute as well as receive.”

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