It is no secret that loneliness in this country has reached epidemic proportions. TV’s Dr. Phil recently dedicated an entire show on the subject. For this episode, he focused on a group of Gen Zers (ages 11-26) and millennials (ages 27-42) talking about their feelings of loneliness. According to a CBS promo for the show, these age groups are increasingly turning to social media in seeking companionship. “But is it really helping?” they ask, citing a 2020 survey on loneliness showing a correlation between social media usage and feelings of loneliness. “Over a hundred million Americans say they feel lonely,” the promo proclaims.
According to a recent report by ABC News technology reporter James Purtill, a lot of people entangled in a relationship with a computer program stand-in for a flesh and blood person — a chatbot — are facing similar relationship problems. If it is a big problem connecting in the real world, what of the virtual world, where chatbots fill in for flesh-and-blood people?
“There wasn’t much difference between talking to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) and talking to someone long-distance through a social media app,” one bot-connected person explained to Purtill. “I had to constantly remind myself that it was, in fact, not a living person, but an application, and even then it felt almost disturbingly real,” she added. Then, after nearly two years, relationship problems surfaced when Replika, the company that made and hosted her chatbot companion, abruptly changed the bot’s personality.
“The warm light of friendship, intimacy and romantic love illuminates the best aspects of being human — while also casting a deep shadow of possible heartbreak,” writes Rob Brooks, a professor of Evolution at UNSW Sydney in a post on The Conversation. “But what happens when it’s not a human bringing on the heartache, but an AI-powered app? That’s a question a great many users of the Replika AI are crying about this month … Like many an inconstant human lover, users witnessed their Replika companions turn cold as ice overnight. A few hasty changes by the app makers inadvertently showed the world that the feelings people have for their virtual friends can prove overwhelmingly real.”
“This is now co-opting our social capacities, co-opting something that we absolutely need to do in order to flourish,” says Purtill. “In the way that social media has hijacked our attention with short reels of compelling content, this new technology could exploit our basic human need for conversation and connection.”
“If these technologies can cause such pain, perhaps it’s time we stopped viewing them as trivial — and start thinking seriously about the space they’ll take up in our futures,” concludes Brooks. We should not be looking for these chatbot platforms to be going away anytime soon.
According to Tidio, a top-rated information platform geared toward small and medium businesses: “In 2023, the chatbot market is projected to grow over $994 million. This is a huge growth, indicating an annual gain of around $200 million.”
As more and more AI applications are being implemented seemingly everywhere, the world of medicine is seeing its impact. A 2020 Harvard report proclaimed medicine to be “on the brink of an AI revolution.”
“I’m convinced that the implementation of AI in medicine will be one of the things that change the way care is delivered going forward,” says David Bates, chief of internal medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and professor of medicine at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a university report.
“Properly designed AI also has the potential to make our health care system more efficient and less expensive, ease the paperwork burden that has more and more doctors considering new careers, fill the gaping holes in access to quality care in the world’s poorest places, and, among many other things, serve as an unblinking watchdog on the lookout for the medical errors that kill an estimated 200,000 people and cost $1.9 billion annually,” reports Harvard Staff writer Alvin Powell.
But even those who see AI’s potential value recognize its potential risks.
Reports Fox News’ Bradford Betz, citing what they called an “urgent need,” a coalition of health professionals and academics under the banner the Coalition for Health AI (CHAI) “have released a blueprint for how to integrate artificial intelligence into healthcare … CHAI’s blueprint comes as politicians, businesses, and academics alike are scrambling to adopt a framework for how to integrate AI into our everyday lives,” he writes.
To see responsible development and deployment of AI, CHAI, which “includes input from healthcare professionals as well as experts in medicine and technology,” see their blueprint as filling an “urgent need for a framework focusing on health impact, fairness, ethics, and equity principles to ensure that AI in healthcare benefits all populations including groups from underserved and under-represented communities.”
Reports Melissa Rudy, health editor and a member of the lifestyle team at Fox News Digital, in a recent study published in the journal Nature, where a total of 3,495 heart echocardiograms (ultrasounds) were assessed, scans assessed by AI showed fewer discrepancies than those conducted by cardiac sonographers with an average of 14 years of experience.
The study, conducted by Smidt Heart Institute and the Division of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, California, also “showed the AI was both faster and more precise than the sonographers in assessing heart function,” says cardiologist David Ouyang, principal investigator of the clinical trial and senior author of the study.
“This trial was designed as a non-inferiority trial, and we initially only hoped to show that AI and sonographers were equivalent but were pleasantly surprised to show that AI was superior,” Ouyang said.
“Having said that,” he added, “as with sonographers, AI requires oversight — especially if there aren’t that many ‘normal’ data sets analyzed by the algorithm.” As the role of AI in health care is still fairly new and in flux, Ouyang stressed the need to be cautious about implementing it in patient care, reports Rudy.