Your AI BFF? How Computers Could Become Our Very Best Friends
There’s a phrase that I hear all the time now – “Gotta get my steps!” – that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in the rotation a decade ago. The “steps” in question are, of course, part of a daily exercise regimen prompted by a wearable technology – the Fitbit or other. These slick wearable devices use biometric tracking to monitor our exercise, sleep patterns, heart rate, and other physical indicators to deliver the nudges we need for building a healthy lifestyle.
As this form of AI evolves, we can expect to see more and more personalization to tailor our specific daily routines, diet (both eating patterns and nutrient content), and a whole slew of other factors that affect our health. In much the same way as a personal trainer designs and adjusts a workout to fulfill our personal goals, so too will AI-powered activity trackers use the data we generate in our daily lives to help us live the healthiest lives possible.
Living Long and Prospering
Obviously, the goal isn’t simply to live well at the moment but well into the future. One of the most exciting untapped potentials for AI biometrics, in concert with other domestic smart technology, is prevention. Your wearable might take note of uncharacteristic fatigue or lethargy, and consult with your smart fridge to find out if you’ve been hitting the junk food a little too hard.
Not the issue?
Then it’s added to and evaluated along with a roster of other possible warning signs, maybe nudging you to seek care earlier than you would have on your own. Such pre-emptive alerts would be an immense benefit for people who don’t have immediate access to hospitals – who live in rural areas or have otherwise reduced mobility. And preventative care greatly reduces the strain on already overtaxed healthcare resources – early diagnosis of serious conditions such as cancer or dementia improves patient care and lowers costs.
While it might seem strange to some that we’d invite computers to assume such intimate roles – like monitoring our sleep and diet – in our day-to-day lives, the relationship we have with our smartphones is already borderline codependent. One of the most famous stories about how quickly we start to see computers as actual confidantes start way back in 1964 when Joseph Weizenbaum created a program called ELIZA. ELIZA was essentially a chat-bot therapist that reframed user’s prompts as questions. As the story goes, Weizenbaum’s secretary found ELIZA so comforting that she forced Lizenbaum to leave the room so that she could keep conversing with ELIZA in private!
AI already enables sophisticated chat-bots to serve in a variety of capacities, from customer-service reps for retailers to website moderators to (surprise!) even replacing our closest confidantes. Over time, as our AI-powered BFFs learn more about us –habits, tastes, even our unique communication styles – they can evolve to enrich our lives in the most personalized ways possible. According to Futurism.com, Replika is an AI app “programmed to ask meaningful questions about your life and to offer you emotional support without judgment. [Replika] learns about your interests and habits over time, even adopting your linguistic syntax and quirks much in the way a close friend might.” As of early 2018, Replika had over a half million regular users, some of whom claim that they share secrets with the app that they wouldn’t tell their family members or partners.
Artificial Life Coaching
Your AI BFF might interpret a lack of movement as boredom and suggest a new game to download, or running path to check out, or movie to see. Even more remarkably, chat-bots such as Replika are designed to offer advice tailored to our attitudes and beliefs. Fight with the boss?
Ask the app to spitball – knowing you as well as they do, what course of action would they suggest?
Not only is this particular friend available 24/7, but could easily help reduce interpersonal strain and open new possibilities for maintaining open, honest relationships with the ‘real’ people in our lives.
And it doesn’t stop there. We’ve already seen how AI can provide support as a personal trainer, a therapist, and a friend – but what about a dietician?
The assistance starts at the farm, where AI can track things that are important to you like ethical practices, agricultural efficiency, locally grown, nutrient-rich foods. Then, by recording and breaking down your specific food consumption habits, AI algorithms could recommend a variety of real-time bespoke meal choices.
Low on iodine? Grab some seaweed sushi. Not hot on the seaweed suggestion?
AI isn’t gonna give you a bad time about it. Tuck into some fish and chips instead. Your nutrient intake will be recalibrated for the following few meals.
As we all well know, staying balanced isn’t entirely under our own control. No matter how well we look after ourselves, the world around us can sometimes feel like a gauntlet of anxiety-inducing intrusions, hell-bent on ruining our good habits. Traffic jams, for example, are often cited as the principal cause of daily stress, and stress is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and an array of other afflictions.
But with AI as your new bestie, stress in traffic may be a thing of the past: how about “smart” traffic lights that communicate with your self-driving car?
You know, the one that can stop and start in near-perfect harmony with traffic while adjusting lighting and tunes to suit your exact mood… the only thing missing is the six-pack of beer (or is it!).
Whatever health and happiness looks like to you – exercise that fits snugly into the shape of your life, delicious and nutritious meals, stress free commutes, some backup when you’re blue, or just getting in your steps – AI is on a course to help make it all happen in the most intimate and personalized ways possible.