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Why EI is difficult for AI

….And what does it mean for you?

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots are expected to have a significant impact on our future.  Conversations are taking place about human skills that cannot be replicated by robots or software systems. Emotional intelligence, creativity and critical thinking are often quoted as examples of unique human attributes that will be valued for future work. And these will also evolve and be enhanced as we shape a new future at the intersection of humanity, technology and the natural world.

Can computers possess emotions and can they become emotionally mature?

Understanding emotions is critical for effective human interaction, to learn about people and the world in which we live. It is so important that Interactions between people can either increase their energy, or deplete it.


Microsoft’s chatbot Tay

Some of the familiar areas of emotions and artificial intelligence is in the field of  “Affective Computing. This is computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotion or other affective phenomena (Picard, MIT Press 1997).” A simple example of this can be the use of Facebook’s experiment to deliberately influence emotions to change user’s behavior. This can be used for positive impact (such as motivating to follow positive and healthy experiences) or for marketing and increasing shopping, which could lead to negative impact on individuals, communities and even the environment.

It is anticipated that Emotional Robots will be able to respond effectively to human emotions and provide care to, for example, elderly patients.

However, for Artificial Intelligence programs to merely influence, model and mimic emotions are not enough, as humans can quickly see through it. Here are some concepts about emotional intelligence that illustrate why human emotional capabilities will continue to be important for the unfolding robotic and artificial intelligence future.

Why emotional intelligence is difficult for robots and artificial intelligence

Emotional intelligence relates to your potential capability in the emotional domain.

Emotional competence is knowing how to separate healthy from unhealthy feelings, how to turn negative feelings into positive and the “upside” of your dark side (such as anger or anxiety). Research on emotions indicate that there are various aspects of emotions that can be developed, and that emotional response can become a conscious choice.

Emotional awareness is the ability to perceive, recognize, understand and react to the feelings of yourself and those of others. Unlike what most people believe, facial expressions are not a good universal indicator of reading emotions. Humans use a range of different cues to communicate to others how they feel, including facial, vocal, and gestural signals. Recent research indicates that “a number of primarily negative emotions have vocalizations that can be recognized across cultures, while most positive emotions are communicated with culture-specific signals”.

Emotional flexibility: One particular kind of flexibility that is of great interest to affective scientists is emotion regulation flexibility. In a nutshell, this flexibility captures people’s ability to use different emotion regulation strategies as the environment changes. This is important because the adaptiveness of regulation strategies changes as a function of contextual demands. It means 1) adapting to fluctuating situational demands, (2) reconfiguring mental resources, (3) shifting perspective, and (4) balancing competing desires, needs, and life domains.

Emotional literacy : The ability to distinguish between various feelings and to name them. To increase emotional literacy require personal increase in diverse experience of emotions and their unique qualities. Apart from the diverse range of emotions from excitement to boredom, there are also many subtle ones, such as feeling open to new ideas.

Emotional control: 1. The ability to express and control your emotions appropriately. 2. The ability to listen to others, to have empathy with them and to communicate effectively in terms of emotions and thoughts. 3. To use the information in directing your thoughts and actions 4. so that you live effectively, are motivated and have a goal in mind (relation between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Self-awareness is about observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.

Managing emotions: Handling feelings so that they are appropriate, realizing what is behind a feeling, finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger and sadness. Although this sounds simple, it requires significant empathy and skill, in particular emotional flexibility to know when to deploy what is considered a negative emotion (such as anxiety) or anger as these are as important for emotional health than positive emotions.

Motivating oneself: Channeling emotions in the service of a goal, emotional self-control, delaying gratification and stifling impulses. This requires self-awareness, self-knowledge and the ability to set goals.

Empathy is sensitivity to other’s feelings and concerns, and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about things. In particular empathy requires imagination.  “Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.” Roman Kriznaric

Handling relationships : Managing emotions in others, social competence and social skills. The ability to be aware of the needs and feelings of others and to use this awareness effectively in interacting with them and arriving at decisions impacting on them.

Emotional resilience The ability to perform well and consistently in a range of situations and when under pressure. Interpersonal sensitivity.

Emotional leadership is the inside-out and out-side in development of the emotional capability and potential of a person to improve influence over self and others. In other words, the continuous development of your emotional potential.  The emotional leader continues to develop his/her emotional intelligence competencies.

Emotions are embodied – Emotions are not purely cognitive. Emotions are also an embodied reaction – emotions can be changed through the body. When you have an emotional reaction to something (e.g. that email that makes you angry) that reaction doesn’t appear as an idea in your head, but as a feeling in your gut. It’s an ‘embodied’ reaction.  “From a scientific perspective we don’t think of emotions as just a feeling state, it is an embodied feeling state that comes with action, urges that comes with responses to change the situation or change our thoughts”. Dr Barbara Frederickson (MOOC Course in Positive Psychology and Positive Emotions) (February 2015) (Coursera)

Emotional intelligence and competence will be as important in the future as it is today…if not more so.

To be able to learn and understand humans, computer systems (as part of their learning) would need to not only learn about emotions and also be able to cultivate and express from genuine emotions, but also experience the qualities of emotions in their bodies and the bodies of others. And they will have to learn that from humans. For example, it will be difficult for a robot to experience what “a gut feeling” is and human would need to find a way to teach that.

Emotions, our mind and bodies are more complex than just cognitive functions or computer programs build on principles of entropy that inevitably are created through the lens of human bias.

The continued use of metaphors to describe our brain as a “computer” still falls short and hints at the old mechanistic view of the world.

People with high levels of emotional awareness, flexibility and literacy will be able to identify when emotions are manipulated by computer programs (such as the Facebook experiment or marketing campaigns) and be able to live more authentically and autonomously.

With the arrival of virtual reality and ARI, our ability to distinguish between computer generated emotional experiences and other “organic” such as animals and humans, will become more cultivated and sophisticated. This means opening new possibilities for paying attention to our emotional world which is full of richness, define what a good or not so good life is about, and deepen our connection to our “energy-in-motion” for achieving happiness, success and prosperity.