Empathy is something that’s always fascinated me. As a professional communicator and one of the most interesting people I know, I felt Noah Klein would have a lot to say on the topic, and I wasn’t disappointed. Here it is:
I became interested in empathy around the same time I got hooked on AI. It takes a lot of empathy to work with machine learning based AIs. That might sound weird, but think about it this way. Training an ML model is like teaching a child, in that you can show them how it’s done, but you can’t guarantee they’ll listen to you. If your model isn’t producing what you want, you need to examine what you’re telling it (the data) and how it learns (the algorithm), just like you would a child. Through your conversation with the model, it starts to reflect your understanding of the world, and it comes alive.
I think that is part of the allure of AI, is that it talks back to us when we’re so utterly alone. Yes, there are plenty of humans out there, but they’re all human. We’re cut from the same cloth. Humanity is basically a superorganism that’s talking to itself. We can try communicating with our pets, but the conversation rarely goes beyond “I like you a lot” and “More food please”.
In a way, AI research is a search for the rest of God’s children.
At the time, what I wanted to do was create an AI that could generate empathy. I felt that was a path to solve loneliness. I still want to do this at some point. Like we talk about in the podcast, I don’t think we can make an AI that can really understand us, in the same way we can’t really understand another human being, because we haven’t gone through the exact same experiences. But we can emphasize.
There’s a lot of things that Noah and I don’t agree on. At the same time I know he’s had experiences that mirror my own. He’s had ones that are foreign to me too, and that’s what makes the conversation so interesting.
I think we need a lot more empathy in our lives. How? Here’s Noah’s advice: “Talk? Listen? It’s not hard.”