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Helping AI Embrace Empathy


Thu, 09/27/2018 - 12:00


Artificial intelligence is already a part of our everyday lives, but for it to truly make a difference it needs to understand human emotions, says Live with AI founder Pierre Robinet.

This article is written by Pierre Robinet, who is a senior consulting partner at Ogilvy Consulting and founder of Live With AI, an independent think tank based in Singapore.



You do not need be a data scientist or machine learning expert to come into contact with artificial intelligence (AI); we are already living with AI on a daily basis. Every time we take an Uber, search for something on Google or shop on Amazon, AI is working behind the scenes to make our experience seamless and more personalised.

In fact, AI has already reached human parity in complex tasks like translating texts from Chinese to English and has even bested humans in games like Go. As the algorithms continue to improve—and ever more data is collected—we can expect AI to outperform humans in a growing list of tasks. But this is not enough.

As humans and AI interact over more and more touchpoints, we need AI that not only surpasses our abilities, but also understands our behaviour and responds appropriately. We urgently need new kinds of applications that can help us ‘copy-paste’ the empathy we have as humans. We need specific AI applications that can simulate social interactions.


Healthcare with a human touch

Nowhere is this need for ‘emotional’ AI more strongly felt than the healthcare sector, where patient experience remains the central focus, no matter how technology may change. Indeed, AI is already transforming the entire healthcare and wellness continuum, with everyone from pharma companies to medical device makers and insurance providers being disrupted.

The first and most obvious change is how AI is reinventing the way that we detect disease. Researchers have now developed robust visual recognition systems that can help detect cancer and other diseases faster and more accurately than human doctors. But this doesn’t mean that doctors are now obsolete.

I often tell my clients that two heads are better than one, but no one ever said that both heads have to be human. Doctors and machines working together in a complementary way will be even more accurate and efficient than using machines alone. What is needed are transparent interactions: machines must be able to explain their decisions so that doctors remain in the loop and are able to intervene when required.

The second way that AI is transforming healthcare is through drug discovery. Clinical trials are the gold standard for assessing the safety and efficacy of new drugs and must be completed before any drug is brought to market. Unfortunately, most trials fail even before they begin—a staggering 86 percent of clinical trials in the US fail because they are unable to recruit sufficient patients.

Deep 6 AI, a company we at Ogilvy have worked with, is applying artificial intelligence to medical records to reduce the patient recruitment process from a matter of months to mere minutes. Their system is able to analyse both structured data like electronic health records as well as unstructured data in the form of doctor’s notes, pathology reports and other important medical data that cannot be searched easily.

Empowering individuals

Last but not least, perhaps the most profound way that AI is transforming healthcare and wellness is through empowerment. Managing chronic conditions is now one of the most challenging healthcare problems worldwide, particularly in countries like Singapore which are rapidly aging. These conditions are often complex and costly to treat, requiring not just a one-time surgery or drug but long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Instead, AI could help patients take control of their own health, analysing data about their blood sugar levels, diet and activities to suggest personalised interventions. At Ogilvy, we have developed a prototype that uses AI to do just that for diabetic patients, using Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, to help them better manage their nutrition and keep their diabetes under control.

More broadly, such AI-enabled solutions and services will not only help patients, but anyone interested in maintaining or improving their well-being. This extends beyond body wellness to a more holistic understanding of well-being, including mental and spiritual health. In fact, there are already AI applications designed to provide psychiatric support and address the growing problem of mental health issues. 

Take for example Woebot, a chatbot trained in cognitive behavioural therapy that offers users a round-the-clock listening ear. Though not designed to replace human therapists, Woebot could help make psychiatric care more accessible and reduce healthcare spending on mental health disorders, which are estimated to cost over $200 billion per year in the US alone.

However, if AI is to support the mind and the spirit as well as the body, it needs to be more than a black box—it needs to be both understandable as well as understanding of human emotions. Once again, the notion of transparency is essential to help us live with AI.

AI for all 

There are decisions that we need to make today in order to shape the development of emotional AI in an ethical way. Too often, the technology we produce ends up reproducing our very human prejudices; sometimes with serious and far-reaching consequences.

For AI to be useful to all, it needs to involve everyone, not just data scientists and politicians but the people whom AI impacts every day. Inspired by this vision for inclusive AI, we have set up Live With AI (LWAI), a non-profit foundation based in Singapore that gathers stakeholders such as decision makers, thought leaders, researchers and educators. By bringing together this diverse group of individuals, we aim to broaden the discussion around AI and stimulate debate around critical issues.

This May, LWAI launched a white paper detailing the impact of AI on healthcare and other industries. Presented in partnership with ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific, the report presents research that anticipates how people will live with AI and outlines 14 key recommendations that can be immediately acted upon. 

Though AI, like any other technology, comes with its own set of risks and challenges, I believe that as the creators of AI, we have the power to shape it. It is everyone’s responsibility—all seven billion of us on this planet—to be aware, to understand AI and lead the coming transformation.

Live with AI gathers thought leaders from France and Singapore to lead research projects on the positive impact of AI to our society. The Live with AI white paper hopes to help decision makers and thought leaders debate more, and anticipate how we can collectively lead in this tech transformation. SGInnovate is proud to be a partner of this initiative. 


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