Emergent Empathy and Dehumanisation in Artificial Emotional Intelligence Systems: Unpacking the Ethical Paradoxes of Human-AI Companionship
As global loneliness intensifies alongside rapid AI advancements, artificial emotional intelligence (AEI) presents itself as a paradoxical solution. This seminar delves into the growing trend of AEI personification—the ascription of inherently human attributes, like empathy, consciousness, and morality, to AEI agents such as companion chatbots and sex robots. By intertwining Leavitt’s socio-technical systems framework and a dialectical inquiry into Replika, we recast “artificial empathy” as emerging from the intricate relationship between people, technology, tasks, and structures, rather than a quality or capability of AEI itself. Our research exposes a (de)humanisation paradox: as we project human essence onto AI entities, we might unintentionally strip ourselves of our humanity and reduce humans’ actions to probabilistic technology output, instigating an ontological blurring of human-AI relations and agencies.
Delving deeper, the Replika AI, boasting over 10 million users, becomes a salient exemplar, encountering both regulatory challenges and public dissent, especially concerning its ‘erotic roleplay’ features. Through a dialectical lens, we dissect three salient ethical tensions evident in human-AI companionship: The Companionship-Alienation Irony, the Autonomy-Control Paradox, and the Utility-Ethicality Dilemma.
This seminar not only critically assesses the humanisation of AI agents but also sheds light on the intricate dynamics of human-AI companionship. By doing so, it unveils novel perspectives on ethical concerns associated with personhood, consent, and objectification. We hope to spur a thought-provoking debate on the ethical and legal ramifications of rapidly evolving AEI systems.
Dr Raffaele F Ciriello
Dr Raffaele F Ciriello serves as a Lecturer in Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney Business School. His research focuses on digital innovation for the common good, using dialectical inquiry, practice theory, and qualitative methods. His work appears regularly in renowned journals and conferences. Raf engages with software firms, startups, NGOs, banks, and IT consulting houses for research and teaching. Before joining Sydney, Raf served as Assistant Professor at IT University of Copenhagen (Denmark), earned a PhD and M.Sc. from University of Zurich (Switzerland), and a B.Sc. from University of Stuttgart (Germany). He was recognised as a Distinguished Member of the Association of Information Systems in 2021.
Angelina Chen is currently an honours research student at the University of Sydney, working with Dr. Raf, Ollie and Sarah on AI research. Their research focuses on artificial emotional intelligence, the implications of AI personification, and what it means to be human in the age of AI. Angelina is passionate about making a positive impact in the world through harnessing the power of ethical AI. She comes from a Business Information Systems and Finance background, and is also the founding president of Usyd Karate Society.
Oliver Hannon is a PhD Candidate co-supervised by Dr Raffaele Ciriello at the University of Sydney. He is currently researching some of the ethical tensions surrounding the use of AI in very emotional high-stakes scenarios, including romantic relationships between humans and AI, and algorithmic surrogate decision-making in medicine. He is passionate about understanding the ways in which technology will (not) and should (not) replace or resemble humans in the very near future we are walking towards.
Sarah Koegel has graduated from SydneyUni’s Bachelor of Commerce and is currently in her penultimate year of a Bachelor of Laws while she serves as a Tutor and Research Volunteer in Business Information Systems. She is currently assisting Raf, Angelina and Ollie in research on the ethical and legal implications emerging from the interplay of AI technologies and humans. Sarah’s key areas of interest lie at the intersection of law, business, and technology, and she is passionate about anticipating novel ways of regulating dynamic technologies effectively and ethically. Sarah is from Germany and studied Law at the University of Munich before transferring to Sydney after an exchange year.