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AI Empathy and Human Emotions: Shaping a New Era of Mental Wellness
Sean: Hey, guys. How’s it going? It’s been a while since my last recording. Sean here, your host and I have with me someone who is familiar because we’ve had him here in the show before. His name is Minter Dial, and he has a new book that he is about to introduce to us and we’re going to be talking about it now that AI has launched.
And there’s a lot of things happening in that area, in that industry, and we’re going to tackle it right here in this show. Hey, Minter, thank you so much for being here.
Minter: Thank you, Sean. Good evening!
Sean: Thank you! So we were talking in the pre-show about how you’ve been and how I’ve been, and a lot of things have happened ever since we spoke. So AI is taking the world by storm right now and we were talking about empathy as well.
You know, it’s funny because just earlier this morning I talked with someone in our Bible study group. He’s 75 years old and he’s been working in this company for ten years. And the company is a BPO. And they have operations here in the Philippines.
And this friend of mine, he helps with the operations and he coaches people. He asks them questions about their mindset and perspective, and suddenly in one day they just get laid off. More than 80 people in their Manila office and then even more people in the Iloilo office.
And you know, the reason why is because of AI. And he got the call, the same day they asked him to step down. Same day. I raised my eyebrows and was like, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s happening here or now.”
And so we were talking about empathy and how important empathy is. And so what is going to be the future of where the industry is heading? You know, we’re heading towards a future where we’re seeing a lot less human beings serving other human beings just because it can be done using artificial intelligence.
It’s a lot cheaper, it’s a lot more reliable. They don’t take breaks. They don’t go on vacation and all of this good stuff. But what’s going to happen with the human part of us talking about empathy. What do you think?
Minter: Well, let’s start with the near term and the story you just talked about this morning. So one of the pieces of misinformation with regard to empathy is empathy is about being nice to other people. It’s not.
And this is why it remains a really relevant piece in business, because sometimes you have to make tough decisions. Sometimes you have to fire people because if you don’t survive, you serve no purpose. So you have to do stuff that’s not necessarily popular.
Where empathy can come into play is how you deliver the message. So when he received the message, sending a broadcast message by email to everybody saying, “You’re off. You’re fired.” It’s not an empathic manner.
The idea behind empathy is oftentimes really about feeling more empathic, about the communication, your interactions and actions and who’s on the receiving end. And so if you have bad news, just think through how you might be able to deliver it in a more appropriate manner without taking away from the fact that I have to let you go.
And this is a relevant piece in all forms of communication. If you’re sending an email to somebody, what’s your title? Is the title all about you, or is it going to be designed in a way that makes the person who’s receiving it intrigued and want to open it up?
And then don’t go sell, sell, sell, because that’s all again, all about you. How can you make them engage in communication? These are empathic methods that can go all the way up to manipulation, but in general are going to help you in your communications. So that’s like the piece about empathy.
And then as far as the AI piece, Sean, and where are we going? Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of change. I mean, there’s a lot of change that’s already happened. It’s underway. And just like your friends and the 80 people who were let go, it’s definitely happening.
So any company, any person who’s not taking a vivid interest in what’s going on could end up being surprised or being knocked for six. So it’s better to accept it as a reality. Look at it, figure it out, see how it can be exciting.
And one of the ways to do that is to think about what is important to you. So maybe it could be family, for example. Is family important to you? You mentioned church, religion. Well, then how can AI augment your desire to help family?
And for example, older people. Often older people, especially in some of the countries where the pyramid of age population is inverse and not favorable, there are not enough young people to take care of the old people.
So maybe there are ways you can find AI that would help to complete the relationship and somehow combat the loneliness of old people who are stuck in these old folks’ homes, stuffed away and left to grow old and die.
And so that’s, I think, about Japan in particular, but there are so many other countries anyway. So I think we need to wake up. It’s happening and it will take reskilling. Sometimes it’ll be a real hard change. Reset, get going. But it’s coming. And so pretty much everybody is going to be impacted. And this is an alarm call to get ready.
Sean: But speaking about AI and empathy and like aging people, do you think that, them, chatting or talking with an AI and I’ve heard AI that sounds like human, right? So I’ve even heard of an AI who sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yeah, I’ve heard that AI And I was like, I was trying to determine if I could identify that it was an AI trying to talk like him. And I couldn’t. It really did sound like him.
With this kind of augmentation, for aging people who feel lonely or even younger people who feel the longing of loneliness and having someone to talk to, do you think that it would be a good, long term solution for them to communicate with an AI, even if that AI may or may not make them feel good about themselves?
Minter: The word that’s important, I think, in what you said is, is it a good solution? And I think it is a good solution, but not the best solution. The best solution is probably having your grandchildren and your children in your company hanging out. And it’s human to human.
However, people today are extremely self engrossed. They are doing what they have to do. They have less time to listen to other people. And especially today, the sort of intolerance for grandfather who’s going to tell the same story 50 times.
Our ability to listen alone is very far from what it should be. We’ve got the distractions of digital. We have the pressures on finances, family as it is, and then we’re not up at 2 a.m. as well. So the benefit, the goodness of an AI, is not only being able to do it without judgment, it has an endless ability to listen if it’s well programmed.
It can also be really useful in many countries where there aren’t enough therapists. I mean, not only are we not having enough family interactions because we’re so busy, everybody, couples are working. It’s just the reality of life. You know, the idea of the mother staying at home is way gone. And the idea of living with your grandparents and great grandparents is way past. It still happens, fortunately.
But the issue and one of the three main reasons why I got to write this book is that we’ve also seen a hellaciously large amount of mental health disorders, especially amongst the young.
And I put this down to a number of things, but one of them being a lack of meaningfulness, a sense, a crisis of meaning, but also because of greater awareness, also because of a broader definition of what this is and the type of solutions, pharmaceutical or other, that are out there.
And I think there are other issues as well in terms of how we are no longer as resilient as, for example, your grandfather or my grandfather who was killed in the Philippines. I mean, you know, so there’s a whole lot of things that have gone on.
And on top of that, when people have mental health disorders declared, they can’t find therapists because they’re just not enough therapists, trained therapists out there to do the work. And is it a good solution?
Well, sometimes they may get bad advice for sure. But by the way, that happens in real life as well. You go chat with a friend about your situation and they give you advice. Is it always the best advice? You know, I’m going to put a little wager on and know.
Is the AI going to be perfect? No. By the way, is AI capable today of therapeutic AI? No. Because it hasn’t been sufficiently trained, but it’s moving towards that.
Sean: It’s so ironic that from what you’re saying that AI kind of has some more empathy and just because it has more time and we’re so busy doing whatever it is that we want to accomplish.
And you’re right, people have become so self engrossed, self centered, that they no longer think of giving much time in relationships. So it’s so ironic because there are so many people saying that, Oh, the AI’s are not capable of empathy. And that’s what’s going to be left with us human beings as our job, because AIs can’t feel. And what you’re saying is in itself pretty amazing. Pretty ironic as well, that actually, in a way, it is more empathic than human beings.
Minter: Sure, at times it can be. That’s the reality. That’s not how I want to phrase it, because at times, of course it’s not. And of course it’s better to have a friend who knows you, your context and those deep friends. So is AI going to replace all that? No.
And then the other thing to recognize is that outside of the fact that we as human beings, not only do we not always have the time, we sometimes don’t have enough data to learn how to be appropriately empathic.
But with a machine, it’s going to learn over time and it’s going to be able to respond if you program it with good ethics and some good ideas around the types of therapies that you can produce, it will listen to you ad nauseam.
It can be programmed not to be distracted. It can be programmed to provide you with some good ideas. It doesn’t have to be like a prescription of medication. Obviously not, but it can do some things and it can certainly be better than a lot of people, depending on the situation, depending on the relationship.
And if it’s well programmed, I am very optimistic that it will provide a good solution to help with your lack of therapists, with the inversion of the population growth, with being available at 2 a.m. in the morning when the young teenager is feeling terribly distressed.