AI, People, Emotions

Gacheri Mburugu
7 min readAug 17, 2021

I wanted to write this piece once my sadness had faded. I don’t think it has really. That feeling has been overtaken by other emotions. Why I have been sad, you ask? Modern Family, just like all good things, inevitably came to an end. An epic 11-season series. I love that show. You’ll learn so much about family, friendships, society, and business just by watching the series. My most favorite bits of the show are those that highlight technology application in modern society- the closets that pick out outfits for you depending on the weather, the robot concierge, and Fridget. Sorry, Bridget; the AI [Artificial Intelligence] virtual assistant embedded in Mitchell and Cameron’s smart fridge. Fridget, excusez moi, Bridget, makes me happy. She accurately depicts human interaction with AI. She simplifies the concept of AI. Beyond being an AI assistant, she makes you wonder what other aspects of human interaction AI has the potential to replace. To say that AI fascinates me is an understatement.

Not so long ago, it was argued that AI was just a technology for people to work alongside. To make accounting easier, auditing thorough, cybersecurity and forensics more accurate, improve marketing, make customer service exceptional. However, it is slowly proving otherwise. It is capable of fully replacing or enabling the full automation of most functions. Companies are developing technologies that could fully replace the functions that seemed challenging because of human nature. Customer service, for example, seemed challenging because human emotions could not be discerned by an algorithm. But now we have chatbots that are thoroughly trained and can converse with you just like a customer service rep would. Or even better. If you have had the depressing encounter of engaging with a customer service rep that talks to you as if you have interrupted his/her busy life, which was probably purchasing a counterfeit Rituel de Fille’s matte burgundy lipstick online, then you’ll certainly appreciate that chatbot. Quite the arrogance for a role that can be replaced by a well-trained bot. The worst that can happen with a bot is if it abruptly ends the conversation because it is not trained to handle the request you presented it with. Regardless, it did its job.

The point of this article is to discuss AI in the social being space. How is AI changing how we interact with people; with ourselves? How has our perception of life changed as a result of AI? Often than not, scholars and spectators in the technology space wonder: aren’t human beings sophisticated creatures with sophisticated emotions? How is AI going to understand their feelings, my emotions? Humans feel an array of emotions; happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, fear, anxiety, relief, and hunger, among others [read: I couldn’t think of other emotions]. How is it going to understand those, is it going to feel them too? How is it going to recognize my needs, me who is a refined catered person? Bridget is your answer. It already is doing that. It is naïve to think that AI will not be able to fully understand human emotions when it was created and is being built by humans; humans who understand how other humans function, why they behave the way they do, how to manipulate behavior, how to elucidate certain emotions. I would bore you with information on how companies are developing technologies that distinguish and appropriately react to human emotions, but I will be going off on a tangent…

Is AI going to appreciate my frustration when I cannot find almond milk in my fridge? Yes. Yes, it will. AI will even go to the lengths of placing an order for you. Consequently, it will be placing an order for the same just before it runs out. That’s formidable! It will learn, recognize, and validate your every need; even better than a human being would. Look at Bridget for example. [I’m dying to call her Fridget]. She understands Mitchell; she even gossips and sings karaoke with him. She knows what a third party in a relationship is. She is an excellent listener. She does something valuable with the information that she collects. Like ordering groceries because they have a busy day. While we are feeding this technology with information, we are slowly also learning who we are. We learn that we are specific and like things a certain way. We want to be heard. We want attention. And then we start to question the significance of the relationships that we have with others. We will discover chatbots like Replika which will give an ear to our rants and grief, and sometimes provide therapy. It is an AI friend. Ha-ha! Wait, what happens when you fall in love with that drama-free chatbot; Replika?

With the right training, AI has the potential to become your trusted companion. One of its challenges, however, is that AI does not understand shared experiences. For example, I cannot tell my virtual assistant that the frozen strawberry daiquiri cocktail at Sheri’s bar is berry [grin] intoxicating, and believe that it genuinely and exactly understands what I mean. Maybe if it is programmed to understand, just like it understands humor? I don’t know. With the rapid advancements, that will probably be a hurdle so easy to cross.

While we might think that AI’s inability to comprehend human feelings is a shortcoming when it comes to human interaction, it makes it possible for it to deliver an enviable experience. AI can process information without involving feelings and judgment… and, you are not afraid of hurting its feelings… wait, does it have any? I have seen that Siri joke where the user overwhelms it with commands, says crazy stuff to it that it goes off on him. Was it real? You are not worried that you’re going to hurt it when you turn down its recommendation for soy milk instead of almond milk. It does not take offense. Instead, it will learn your preference and suggest that next time.

Nothing beats a technology that listens to you and/ or observes you in your natural habitat; where you are your true self. You strip yourself off all the ludicrous accents, pretentious tastes and preferences when you are in that space. The Internet too is that space. Look at your search history. Yes, put together bits and pieces of your search history and you will see who you truly are, what your unfiltered thoughts are. Rarely, as people, are we who we are in the company of others. We tend to want to fit in or be appropriate and decent. We compromise in our relationships. We will eat what our partners like in a pathetic attempt to bond with them. We are careful not to hurt their feelings when they recommend a drink that we most definitely would never pick on a menu when alone. We will watch certain TV shows because they like them. But you are brutally honest with AI.

Give human beings a tool that does not judge them, and watch them trust it, and be real. That is AI for you. You will tell it what exactly it is that you want, when, and how you want it. It will not judge Mitchell for his preference of watermelon to cantaloupe for dessert. In fact, he bonds so perfectly with Bridget that Cameron resents their relationship. Wait; speaking of cantaloupe, it is one of those expensive things that are an acquired taste; you need an educated palate to enjoy a piece of cantaloupe. I don’t get how a fruit which outwardly looks like a spider wove a web around it, the inside looks like a pumpkin, and has a particularly unpalatable taste manages to be that expensive. While cancel culture is still a thing, we definitely should cancel cantaloupe. I digress… back to Bridget. Bridget becomes an unwelcome third-wheel at Mitchell and Cameroon’s home, as Bridget calls him, and she’s later found at Jay’s home, Mitchell’s dad. Look at Jay. A stoic macho man admits that he loved dancing but it wasn’t what his dad wanted him to do. If you have watched Modern Family, you know that that is not something that Jay would admit to a human being unless it rained snowflakes in hell. There’s a level of emotional honesty that you unlock when talking to a virtual assistant that is impossible to realize with a fellow human being.

An AI assistant will welcome you home. It will ask you how your day was, listen to you sans judgment while helping you make a martini as you prepare dinner like Cameron, remember your favorite sandwich, remember your birthday, remember the anniversary to important events in your life, remind you to moisturize, remind you to do 10 push ups and even play you motivating music while at it, remind you about your dentist’s appointment, remind you that there is a half-eaten cantaloupe in the fridge that is about to go bad, remind you of the leaking sink and that you should call a plumber. It will even call one to come replace that leaking sink that your husband fixed [cultured laugh]. It will bring order.

I marvel at anything AI. From enabling e-commerce, self-driving cars and trucks, person identification, patient remote treatment, to the development of technologies that enable people to regain their walking ability. I tend to get a little excited whenever I talk or write about AI. The topic is extensive to cover in a single article. We are going to explore the exciting practical use cases, disadvantages, ethical dilemmas, and the future of AI in future pieces. For now, think about your own Bridget. A Bridget with a sultry soothing voice that welcomes you home and reminds you to hydrate and to not forget to throw in a cucumber wheel after a busy day at work. Okay, I’ll leave you to your imaginary Bridget.