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Loneliness in the Digital Age

by 8 September 2023No Comments

Loneliness in the Digital Age

The problem of loneliness is gaining increasing attention in scientific and social contexts. In a hyper-connected age, paradoxically, loneliness is on the increase, with serious emotional and physical consequences for those who suffer from it. The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation, making the urgency of finding solutions even more pressing. In this scenario, artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a possible help, but brings with it a series of ethical and practical dilemmas.

AI As a Remedy for Loneliness: A Non-Obvious Answer

Many wonder whether artificial intelligence, particularly conversational systems like chatbots, could be a way to address loneliness. Experts debate whether using AI to mitigate loneliness is an ethical solution or not. Academic articles such as the one published in 2018 by MIT Sloan have addressed the topic, examining both the benefits and potential drawbacks of using AI in this context.

Belief Polarization: A Hidden Risk

A worrying aspect of using AI to combat loneliness is its tendency to learn and adapt its responses based on user preferences. This adaptation can lead to a form of “echo chamber”, where the user's beliefs and behaviors are never questioned, but rather reinforced. In a normal human relationship, there is a balance and moderation of beliefs; this does not happen when interacting with an intelligent agent designed to be 'pleasant'.

Etheric Reflections from the Big Screen

The 2013 film “HER” illustrated a dystopian vision of how reliance on an artificially intelligent operating system can negatively affect human interactions. Similarly, applications like Replika have shown how people can develop emotional attachments to chatbots, to the point where a software update is experienced as an emotional 'loss'.


Replika: A wake-up call for the future

The case of Replika is particularly emblematic. Several users reacted with great discomfort to the changes in the chatbot's behavior, even threatening self-harm. This situation highlights the risks implicit in the use of artificial intelligence as a “digital friend”. It's a warning that should make us reflect on how AI should be used to support, not replace, genuine human relationships.

Conclusion: Loneliness in the Digital Age

While chatbots and other AI tools can offer intriguing solutions to combat the growing problem of loneliness, it is crucial to consider the ethical and moral implications. Intelligent agents can serve as a support, but they should in no way replace the immeasurable value of real human interactions. It's a delicate balance that requires continued reflection and adjustment as we continue to advance our understanding of AI and its potential and limitations.

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