Why compassion, not empathy, is the last stronghold of human beings compared to robots

by Antoni Lacinai

Can a robot be strong on empathy? The answer seems to be Yes!

We tell ourselves that there are some areas where computers cannot be better than us. Human interaction, creativity and empathy are three of those areas. But is that really true? Let’s examine them:

Anyone interested in technology have heard how a Google AI robot managed to book an appointment over the phone, with a hairdresser, who had no idea she was talking to a computer. Google’s new hardware strategy is Ambient computing, meaning that they will be present everywhere, listening and predicting how they can support- in a nice way. Some people have also experienced robo-calling where it gets increasingly hard to detect that you’re not speaking to another person. There goes human interaction. Computers vs humans: 1-0

We have seen how computers have invented unimaginable solutions like new design on, for instance, furniture that no human would have come up with. That’s that for creativity. Computers vs humans: 2-0

And we now see more and more companies developing what is called Affective Computing, which is about computers detectinginterpreting and predicting how we humans feelthink and act. (Yep, that’s Empathy). Seemingly “simple” apps like Crystal can tell you how to communicate with a connection on LinkedIn by checking all that person’s posts, comments and likes. It is almost embarrassing how accurate the app is. 

What else? Things like reading facial micro expressions, checking pulse and skin temperature, listening to phone calls and deciphering if the person is telling the truth or not, all of this is within grasp of a clever algorithm already today. With machine learning, big data and AI, our digital friends will be much better than us at understanding the possible actions and reactions of people. Computers vs humans: 3-0

Perhaps we need to understand that empathy, as explained here, isn’t our last bastion. Compassion is.

Until computers have emotions, this is where we still excel. We feel! We decide on actions based on emotions, not logic. Sometimes it’s stupid since we act out of fear and anger. We yell at our spouse just because we’re hungry, we bully a kid in school who is different than us, we go to meaningless war out of hatred and terror, and we look the other way when beggars stretch out their hands. Give me a super intelligent computer that hinders us please!

But sometimes we take that outstretched hand, we reason with an opponent, we praise people, we comfort the grieving ones who experience loss, we welcome the “odd” colleague into the community, and we feel and show compassion. This leads to the most positive of all human traits. We love! 

The more I talk to tech-savvy people, or read about AI and Affective Computing, the more I realize that the last stronghold of humanity is not empathy, but rather compassion and therefor love. Now that’s a world and a workplace I’d like to spend my days in, (and then get support from smart tech as well, helping humans achieve a compassionate world).

Computer vs compassionate humans: 3-100

Thank you for reading my mind. Now share your thoughts so we can have a compassionate dialog about this ^_^

Find out more about our TFA speaker and collaborator Antoni Lacinai – International speaker on analog workplace communication in an ever more digital world