Would you have an AI Companion?
Human beings crave for vulnerability. A chance to express themselves without being judged or having to feel sorry for communicating their innermost thoughts and feelings. It is the basis for most romantic relationships, where partners can share their joys sorrows fears and expectations freely mostly to clear their minds or find a companion when going through something difficult that is painful physically or emotionally. This vulnerability is the basis of trust in a relationship. Human beings would love to let their guard down and expose themselves emotionally without feeling endangered.
But just like a rose that is beautiful yet thorny, Human beings turn against each other and misuse that vulnerability to destroy each other. Based on their background and upbringing, human beings are inherently judgemental and it can be difficult to decipher the true intentions of a person even after years of knowing them. Additionally, people grow apart over time due to different reasons such as distances, political ideologies or even lifestyle, for instance when one advances the social ladder due an increase in money and the other person is left behind. Because of this, people have resorted to other means of mental wellness that does not involve person to person communication such as expressive writing, where you write what is on your mind until you feel everything is out and choose whether to keep what's written or destroy it if you feel its too much of a risk exposing your thoughts.
May is the mental health awareness month. While there is much focus on encouraging people to speak up as a way of fighting depression and other mental health issues, there's a deficit in attention to mental health awareness amongst people with disabilities especially in Kenya. To begin with, PWDs have so much to deal with such that mental health issue come last in the priority list. If not clamouring for provision of facilities such as mobility devices, it is agitating for economic empowerment. If not advocating for representation in political spaces, it is tackling attitudinal barriers fueled by retrogressive and outdated beliefs that are so deeply rooted in the society. Again, mental health issues in the disability realm are looked at with medical spectacles understandably so because of mental and intellectual disabilities that may bring about changes and variations in the mental well-being of a person with disability.
Beyond that, the environment that most people with disabilities find themselves in does not allow them to express themselves fully in matters mental wellbeing. The situation is further aggravated by the shortage of human expertise that is skilled in matters disability and mental health. Just like other people resort to non face to face modes of therapy like expressive writing, majority of PWDs, do not trust mental health practitioners to handle their issues because they feel they have not lived through their experiences to fully understand them. There is also the issue of cost which is a hindrance to many PWDs getting help when faced with a mental health issue such as depression.
With artificial intelligence becoming more and more advanced as technology progresses, it has gained even more complex usages and almost approaching human like resemblance that was thought to be possible in Sci-fi movies like Robocop, where a police officer is half human half robot. The only stumbling block to near human resemblance was emotion and that seems to be solved if artificial companions are anything to go by.
Replika is an artificial intelligence chatbot that acts like a companion ready to listen and talk to you any time anywhere and about anything. It stimulates conversations based on what you tell it and from your digital footprint be it social media posts or personal chats with friends. It has 3 modes, mentor, romantic partner or best friend. It also keeps a journal of sorts based on interactions on a daily basis.
While admirers of the technology have praised it for its understanding and self improvement capabilities which is good for personal development, critics are worried about the safety of the data/ information shared on the platform and its usage by the company behind the technology. Personally, I believe such a technology would be a good one to understand the mental wellbeing of PWDs by giving them a free space to express themselves without restrictions and expectations, while using the data collected to build capacity on mental wellness for Pwds. After all, its through data tracking and mining that companies such as Spotify and YouTube have been able to understand their customers better and create nearly addictive products or services.
If I were to use Replika, I would use it from a mentor point of view and improve on my interests and explore opportunities in my areas of interest such as creativity.
@MikkiTarz would you ever use an artificial companion and in what way?
Another great article from you @BKiwu
It's got me more intrigued at the same time enthusiastic to see what AI can do. I think I'd first use artificial companion as a best friend. I'd want to see how good my communication skills are cause the companion would be simply mirroring into my very human nature that's got its issues. I'd want it to nit pick and see how I need to be better cause I believe if I'm a better friend, I can easily engage any and everyone.
It's kinda sad that we haven't invested resources in tackling mental health issues. But if this application can be used for data collection so as to bring sight into the advancement of mental health among people and a strategy is put in place to curb it the better. But unfortunately it will take decades for this to happen
In regard to me as a pwd, I'd want it to all three. Cause in a pwds life, mentorship is crucial. From my own age I'd say I was my own mentor, in a better way I'd say, the future me was my mentor. From a young age I had an impression of what I wanted to be. So even on the dark days I'd ask myself, What would the future me do? Would he just coil or he'd look for solutions and conquer. But if I had an actual mentor, I'd have enjoyed being a child instead of growing up fast cause I was all I had.
Second, I'd have wanted a lover. As a pwd, even when you sure it's something good you put yourself down saying it's not. While you may have had a clear line at love, most of us don't seize it cause we afraid. With the artificial companion, i'd find my strengths and things that are worthy in being a partner and build on those. This would mean by starting to appreciate myself and being comfortable in my own skin and not feeling like I don't deserve love.
Always great stuff from you @BKiwu , this is the next milestone in curbing some sociatal judgement and such and for me I'll go for a best friend.
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