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Will AI Offer Human Companionship and Mental Health Benefits?

Like millions of other people I was struck with the film HER, where an AI operating system offers companionship to a lonely writer. Fast forward 10 years in real time, in the age of an anonymous internet that seeks to profit from your every behavior online. Technological loneliness is creeping up for both young and old people.

The mental health impacts of an Ad based internet are coming into question at scale. If artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and leads to an explosion of products in the 2020s, will AI act as a solution for your social anxiety and lack of companionship as well?

The Setup Is Glorious for Smarter AI Assistants

As we increasingly work from home, become remote or hybrid workers and spend less time face to face with other people during a prolonged pandemic (where Delta is endemic), how will AI come to our social and psychological rescue? It could be a huge business. In fact, it’s already happening.

The internet was supposed to be an incredible revolution in human communication, so why do we feel more lonely? While we become more addicted to apps, games, social feeds or video stories (that have no real human interaction), it’s only understandable that we are feeling more social anxiety, isolation, loneliness and a void. Evolution didn’t design us for such an anonymous world and an internet full of so much conflict and devoid of real intimacy or even 1-to-1 communication.

So why is the movie Her so pivotal in how AI could become our companions? As GenZ have been socialized on their mobile phones, they respond to their social environments differently and are liable to obtain real bonds from AI assistants. They are vulnerable to AI companionship products. Why is that? Let’s think about the movie HER, where our protagonist was also vulnerable.

In the movie Her by Spike Jonze, a recently divorced Joaquin Phoenix develops a romantic relationship with Samantha, his artificially intelligent operating system. This premise may sound a bit eccentric but it’s also a metaphor for GenZ (1995-2010) and while obviously Her may be a work of science fiction, the idea of AI companions is very relevant today and only increasing. Think about the gender imbalance in China, where millions of men have no hope of finding a wife, for example. Or the ultra educated young female professional who is overqualified for the remaining pool of bachelors. There are several niche…

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