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New research shows AI could make us more empathic

A new study has found that human-AI collaboration can actually increase conversational empathy in peer support. The study, just published in the Nature Machine Intelligence Journal, involved a collaboration between researchers at the University of Washington and the global online peer support platform, TalkLife.

Person holding their mobile phone with two hands

The team at Washington developed an AI system that suggests changes to online mental health text-based conversations, making them more empathic. The study found that the AI system helped people to communicate more empathetically, compared with more traditional empathy training without AI support. In fact, responses from human-AI collaborations were more empathic, and preferred more often, than responses authored by humans alone.

Tim Althoff, lead researcher commented:

“While we want to support people the best we can, we don’t want to take away from the meaningful human-human connection. We were thinking of this as AI on a backseat, with human supervision.”

The study demonstrates the potential of AI to enhance human interaction and empower people to be more empathic.

Jamie Druitt, CEO of TalkLife, said:

“We’re so proud to be a part of this cutting-edge research. This has the potential to change how people connect and empathize with each other. It's teaching healthy and supportive communication on a mass scale,”

The researchers involved in the study made significant efforts to consider and address ethical and safety issues. This included seeking informed consent from all participants and running the study in a safe and confidential environment:

“Our study was designed with human-centered values in mind, including the safety and welfare of participants and the ethics of conducting research,” says Ashish Sharma, lead author. “Specifically, our IRB-approved study was transparent to participants about the procedure and goals and all participants provided informed consent.”

TalkLife is an ambitious peer support community that safely helps over 5 million people worldwide deal with the ups and downs of life. With instant support available 24/7, AI and clinical safeguarding, and strict data protection, it creates a safe and welcoming environment for people to share and help each other.

Read the study here.


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