Popular films like “Her” and TV series such as “Black Mirror” depict a future of intimate relationships in a high-tech world: Man falls in love with operating system, woman loves person she meets in virtual reality. The rise of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) may play a huge role in the future of our interpersonal relationships. Hardware, such as robots we could touch and feel, are one example of what this AI could look like; another would be software, or algorithms that take on a persona like Alexa or Siri and can seemingly interact with us.
Beyond overused sci-fi clichés, there’s great potential for AI to increase the authenticity and value of real human relationships. Below are some impressions of how AI might enhance the quality of friendship, romantic and professional relationships.
Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but AI can be programmed to translate, helping circumvent missteps in love. Algorithms as key matchmakers in the future of dating might provide the support and information people need beyond the first date. For example, an AI personal assistant may give insights on how to approach someone for a second date, based on information culled from the first meeting, the internet and various digital databases. Soon, one’s tweets, likes and Facebook circle of friends could be used to build our dating profile and then a fool-proof guide to dating the other person.
Imagine a Netflix for dates, informing you of the right restaurants to suggest for a certain someone (based on their biological profiles, DNA tests or other obtainable digital data about them) or narrowing down your choice of bars and cafes based on the probability of meeting singles with a certain Myers-Briggs profile. Whilst on a date, our AI assistant could be interpreting micro-facial expressions, and suggesting underlying meanings and desires in what the other person is saying. The technology could also relay real-time video to our inner circle of friends - collating and prioritising advice from them and dating guides across the web. We need never be lost for words or misinterpret a cue again.
Robots used in caring for the elderly is a no-brainer in places like Japan where the population is aging rapidly and there is a shortage of caregivers. However, it is possible that AI will one day help us communicate and relate better with our elderly friends, relatives and neighbours. Hearing and speech enhancement is a major area that AI will impact—in fact, teaching robots to listen and respond to human speech is an essential aspect of moving AI into our homes and workplaces. Facial recognition and reading body language are among some of the cutting-edge capabilities of AI that could enhance elder care. It is possible that future AI programs will help us not just care for the older people in our lives in a superficial way; today we are familiar with the ability to harness technology for medication reminders, virtual doctor visits and obtaining information used for at-home care. In the near future, AI might keep older people company in the absence of a caring adult or help caregivers understand illness and injury with more empathy. In a more distant future, the ability to upload memories to the cloud could make the impacts of Alzheimer’s obsolete—AI could help patients recall past events and make sense of the present. Combined with VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), we may reach breakthroughs with AI when it comes to understanding the aging experience and avoiding its pitfalls, such as loneliness, communication problems and memory loss.
In the age of social media one can have hundreds of online connections with no real friends in sight in the ‘real world’. Loneliness is an epidemic, and surveys have reported that people believe the number of flesh-and-blood ‘friends’ they can count on in times of need is decreasing, compared to past samples. Technology does not have to alienate us from each other, though, and at Fast Future we emphasize the role of technology in enhancing humanity, not diminishing it. So how could AI help us in our friendships? First of all, guarding special relationships takes the tact and care that can be difficult for some people and at certain times during life. Various uses of AI, like voice detection, could help us learn how to treat a friend who calls to casually ‘say hi’, but whose voice holds fear or anxiety undetectable to the human ear. Friendships might be less private, but more authentic with such a technology. On the other hand, the art of the ‘little white lie’ could be perfected by some device which could let us know when bending the truth might preserve a relationship. Conversely, how many friendships would survive a lie detector enabled on every conversation?
Could AI help you ask for a raise one day? It’s possible our digital twins, our futuristic personal assistants that mirror our thoughts, actions and activities, might make appropriate suggestions along our career paths which help us get ahead. Digital twins might look out for us by comparing salary data in our fields, for example, providing both moral and evidential support to the big ask. Furthermore, AI-powered services could suggest, provide and track professional development training to help instil confidence and overcome weaknesses. As a job coach, AI might provide valuable assistance to jobseekers as well as support people on the job to maintain credentials. Competition in the job market will be fierce once automation takes hold of a range of white-collar jobs. AI working to advance humanity in the workplace would be a win-win for organisations and employees alike. Career support is one application for technology that would enhance the human role in the workplace, while positioning AI in a manner which is not overpowering or threatening.
Ultimately the role of AI in the future of society is still to be determined. Whilst futurists and other early adopters are busy talking up the benefits of AI, new risks are exposed every day. Self-driving cars could reduce the number of lives lost in car accidents, but could they cause the demise of repair garages and auto insurance firms? Algorithms that can predict start-up success rates are handy, but could they ultimately quash innovation? It’s fascinating to see the artwork created by a robot, but what about human creativity—and preserving those qualities that make us human? Given the profit motive, AI is already out of the bag. But how we use it, and whether it is harnessed to enhance human potential are ultimately choices that we as humans have to make.
The authors are futurists with Fast Future who specialise in studying and advising on the impacts of emerging change. Fast Future also publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, keynote speaker, author, and CEO of Fast Future where he helps clients develop and deliver transformative visions of the future. He is the editor and contributing author for The Future of Business, editor of Technology vs. Humanity
Steve Wells is the COO of Fast Future and an experienced Strategist, Futures Analyst, and Partnership Working Practitioner. He is a co-editor of The Future of Business, Technology vs. Humanity, and a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business.
Alexandra Whittington is the foresight director at Fast Future, a futurist, writer, and faculty member on the Futures programme at the University of Houston. She is a contributor to The Future of Business and a co-editor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business and 50:50–Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.