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If it makes you happy

Sheryl Crow sang:

“If it makes you happy It can't be that bad…”

Would artificial intelligence (AI) designed to make us happy be bad? Some say yes and, yet, when the topic of AI comes up, it doesn’t always make people happy. Scared might be the more common response.

AI that can make us happier is not exactly a new idea. Kazuo Yano, Ph.D. has been working on the idea since at least 2016 when his employer, Hitachi, announced it would begin providing online services including measuring degrees of happiness. Figuring out what makes us happy is essential to providing such a service.

You may not want to sign up; however, your employer might. Businesses have been working for years on finding a reliable way to increase employee productivity and engagement. So, applications (apps) and services designed to measure employee response to activities, events and interactions have incalculable value.

During pandemic-related lockdowns, the importance of human connection was highlighted. It is critical to people’s mental health and is likely to continue to be important as “work from home” (WFH) becomes the norm for some businesses. Can AI help?

Japanese company Mitsuku is among the leaders in creating AI chatbots that emulate human interaction. The company has won the Loebner Prize multiple times by passing the Turing Test. (An AI-enabled program passes by being mistaken for a human being.) The lead-in on their website says, “You need never fell lonely again!”

I am reminded of the movie “Her,” which starred Joaquin Phoenix in a near-future society. He became so enamored of his automated companion (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that he was bereft when “she” decided to join other chatbots and form a new and better society without the burden of dealing with human beings.

AI can be a valuable tool for people to stay connected. But it’s a double-edged sword. An obvious advantage is that it’s available 24/7. But you have to wonder if it’s really beneficial for people who inevitably will come to rely on AI too much.

Will AI make us happier? And, if so, what will be the cost in terms of social capital? Will it harm our families and communities?

I don’t know. Perhaps Sheryl Crow does. Here’s the full verse of the song:

If it makes you happy It can't be that bad If it makes you happy Then why the hell are you so sad?

So, what do you think, Sheryl? Are you listening? Hello…

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