AI ‘companions’ promise to combat loneliness, but history shows the dangers of one-way relationships

The United States is in the grips of a loneliness epidemic: Since 2018, about half the population has reported that it has experienced loneliness. Loneliness can be as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2023 surgeon general’s report.

It is not just individual lives that are at risk. Democracy requires the capacity to feel connected to other citizens in order to work toward collective solutions.

In the face of this crisis, tech companies offer a technological cure: emotionally intelligent chatbots. These digital friends, they say, can help alleviate the loneliness that threatens individual and national health.

But as the pandemic showed, technology alone is not sufficient to address the complexities of public health. Science can produce miraculous vaccines, but if people are enmeshed in cultural and historical narratives that prevent them from taking the life-saving medicine, the cure sits on shelves and lives are lost. The humanities, with their expertise in human culture, history and literature, can play a key role in preparing society for the ways that AI might help – or harm – the capacity for meaningful human connection.

Read the full article from The Conversation

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