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Empathy in Human-AI Hybrid Interaction Habitats

Tudor Balinisteanu

This basic sense-react system was designed for the purpose of polyvalent explorations of the togetherness of human bodies and technology, specifically, through exploring the links between empathy, AI technology, socialisation, and aesthetics. The sense-react system engenders human bottom-up (affective, visceral) and top-down (cognitive) empathic responses within a hybrid habitat consisting of a human participant and a simulated AI. A temperature sensor embedded in a counter-relief human palm engraved on the surface of a flat ceramic support reads the temperature of a human partner's palm when the palm is fitted into the counter-relief, and conveys the reading via an Arduino board, and using Arduino and Processing software, to a computer screen simulating an AI partner. The simulated AI partner displays the read temperature within a message designed to trigger a mild egoistic, defensive response to a perceived threat to the human participant's self-integrity: "We are one body now. Our body's temperature is [read temperature]."

The prototype has a twofold purpose: (1) to illustrate, as creative work, the challenges of research on empathy in human-AI technology interaction; and (2) to define a set-up for experimental neuroaesthetics research on empathy in human-AI technology interaction. As one of the most powerful triggers of autonomic response, the haptic coupling instigates an automatic bottom-up affective empathy response by mobilising the affective dimension of the sense of touch. The message instigates a top-down cognitive empathic response. Further elaboration of a background image representing visually an AI partner and the modality of conveying the message are as many opportunities to control the modulation of the empathic response in terms of its strength and other desired experimental controls. The opportunity for displaying a personal message can also be used to control the empathic response.

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