Artificial intelligence is getting smarter — or humans are making it seem so.
In recent months, generative AI has reached a point of innovation we’ve never seen before, opening up many ways for the technology to mimic human language processing. With advanced AI chatbots like ChatGPT doing everything from writing essays and Excel formulas to debugging code, it feels like the sky’s the productivity limit.
Generative AI has become so advanced that a bot’s responses can uncannily mirror a human’s cadence, syntax, and tone — though sometimes its diction contains a hint of apathetic directness. AI bots capable of advanced conversation can help humans find the words we don’t know how to say, from getting started on a book report to expressing ourselves on heavier topics.
It’s becoming clear that AI may be able to help many people communicate in more complex ways than before. Challenging times often call for us to find it within ourselves to deliver a message that can be uncomfortable, sad, shameful, or angering. But why feel those emotions when we write them down when we can have an AI chatbot do it for us?
Imagine being a senior manager at a company, and it comes that time of the year when you have to tell several great employees that the company has decided to terminate their positions. You’ve created bonds with these employees and are genuinely sad to see them leave. Well, you could save yourself some time and struggle and ask ChatGPT to write the severance communications for you.
You’ll find it will write respectful messages and imitate an empathetic tone. After a few tweaks here and there, you can make the words sound more like they came from you. And by not having to come up with these words yourself, you didn’t have to really process them emotionally. Maybe you got to avoid thinking about the employee’s family and how their life will be affected by an unexpected layoff.
Or, you’ve been planning a wedding for the last seven months, and it’s been exceptionally stressful to keep up with work and personal endeavors on top of planning your nuptials. It’s getting close to the day, and you still haven’t written your wedding vows. There’s an AI solution for that, too.
Joy, a digital wedding planning platform, can help you find the sentimental, joyful, nostalgic, or formal tone you need. Wedding vows are just words, right? You show your spouse daily how much you love them, and you’re trying to plan the perfect wedding for your perfect person. Besides, you desperately need to test wedding cakes and spend time on something other than ruminating over your vows.
Here’s my last scenario: Your good friend’s parent passed away recently, and your friend asked you to write a few words to say at the funeral. You’re also grieving because you grew up with this friend and were very close to their family as a kid. Why not let an AI chatbot write the memorial speech for you?
After all, writing about someone who passed away can be an excruciating process. And for AI-powered services like Empathy, which offers an AI trained to write obituaries, the argument is that families are already overloaded with funeral and estate planning while grappling with complicated emotions.
The business model is as follows: allow the AI to handle the words so that you can handle the rest.
That sounds sensible. But I can’t help but wonder if the deceased’s family, the laid-off employee, or your new spouse would feel uneasy knowing an AI chatbot wrote the heartfelt words being passed off as your own. Would it make you feel guilty to see someone you care about cry over the kind things you said, when in reality, the only words that were yours were the ones typed into the prompt?
All of these scenarios beg this simple moral question: Is it a breach of someone’s trust not to disclose that an AI language model penned an emotionally heavy message?
But that question brings up the other side of the coin. Sometimes, people struggle to express challenging emotions. And technology can now help us get those words out, regardless of our emotional capacity, reading and writing capabilities, or physical and intellectual abilities — and that’s a fantastic thing.
Perhaps using an AI chatbot to help you write an emotionally charged message can even help you understand your feelings. Seeing the chatbot’s response might help you better articulate your complicated emotions the next time you need to do so. Or it can help you to see what parts of a situation you need to take responsibility for and how to try to change your communication in the future.
But if AI-written vows, eulogies, speeches, memoirs, love letters, apologies, poems, or songs become ubiquitous, are they still meaningful? Or, could they degrade the importance we put on the things our partners, families, friends, or coworkers write to or for us?
What do we lose when we outsource expressing our emotions to an AI chatbot? We’ve all heard that sitting on our emotions and feeling them is how we process them and get the intensity to pass. Speaking from the heart about a complex, heavy topic is one way we can feel true catharsis. AI can’t do that processing for us.
There’s a common theme during periods of technological innovation that technology is supposed to do the mundane, annoying, dangerous, or insufferable tasks that humans hate doing. Many of us would sometimes prefer to avoid emotional processing. But experiencing complex emotions is what makes us human. And it’s one of the few things an AI model as advanced as ChatGPT can’t do.
If you think of expressing emotions as less of an experience and more of a task, it might seem clever to automate them. But you can’t conquer human emotions by passing the unsavory parts of them to a language model. Emotions are critical to the human experience, and denying them their place within yourself can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and poor physical health.
AI chatbots are useful communication tools. They are extensively training on human language processing, but they’re not friends or therapists. Complex human emotions will always be best understood and processed by human intelligence.