Emotions our very weakness is our strength. Despite our most ambitious efforts to demystify them, emotions remain utterly mysterious and elusive. We don't understand them unless we feel them, and feeling them of course is the very blind spot that may prevent us from ever 'objectively' understanding them. There even appears to be some confusion as to what counts as human emotion and what does not, and which of our emotions are distinctive. However, in 2017, a new study suggested that there are as many as 27 different categories of emotions and that they in fact occur along a gradient and are not sharply distinguishable or mutually exclusive. This new set of emotions ranges from admiration, adoration, awe, and surprising outliers such as"aesthetic appreciation to envy, excitement, horror, and"empathetic painĂ˘?? to equally unexpected contenders such as nostalgia, romance, or triumph.
AI and robotics and how they will affect our emotions?
Researchers have long studied our emotional relationship to machines. Studies have proven that we quickly form emotional attachments to robots. So-called Artificial Emotional Intelligence. AEI, like any technology, can be used for benevolent and malicious purposes, from boosting our emotional intelligence to manipulating and emotion-engineering us as citizens and consumers, from helping autistic children recognize their emotions. Analyst firm Gartner recently predicted that by 2022 smart machines will understand our emotions better than our close friends and relatives. And yet, the question remains: Could technological advances in AI and robotics lead to the emergence of new emotions that were not only previously unquantified, unnamed, and unidentified, but also un-felt? Aside from our consciousness of emotions, evolution may have caused new emotions to form.
Awe: Mixed emotions are the future
At the TED conference this year, science writer Jessa Gamble held a fascinating workshop on awe, an emotion triggered, by say, entering the St. Peter's Basilica or experiencing the vastness of a desert.
Gamble referenced Stanford researcher Melanie Rudd who studied the effects of awe on consumer behavior and claims that after feeling awe we tend to choose experiential goods like a movie over material goods like clothes. She further concludes that awe also makes us more willing to volunteer in our communities. It is important though to note that awe empowers and disempowers at once. It makes us bigger and smaller. Gamble pointed out that the"smaller self was both a prerequisite and consequence of awe: awe overpowers the self. That is both inspiring and humbling. This very sentiment pinpoints our relationship to AI and robots: we are in awe of them, which means, we are enamored and terrified at the same time. On the one hand, we are witnessing a radicalization of our emotions, as they are fleeing to the extreme edges, at the same time, the volatility and complexity of our digital times is popularizing emotional states that are simple and balanced.
What makes us human is our proclivity to fall for the other: somebody who is not us, something beyond our control, greater than ourselves. We can't help but be drawn to persons, objects, or experiences that promise us new emotions, new sensations, new highs and lows, new joy and happiness, but also new heartbreak and suffering.
Although we are calling them by our name (Alexa, Buddy, Sophia, Kaspar, Samantha, Erica.), as a mirror of ourselves, the AI bots remain elusive. They are the enigmatic other, the greatest desire of all, the ultimate romance. If they can help us feel more and feel new emotions, and if we refine these emotions through more advanced emotional intelligence, with the arts and humanities as our interpreters, then the very machines that are growing adept at analyzing and manipulating how we feel will ensure that we stay a step ahead of them.