How Happiness Technology Is Affecting Our Everyday Lives
The internet has brought us all together in one global network of connectivity, and there's no denying that it has altered the way we live day-to-day.
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When the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) comes up, it often elicits varied responses. Some people are excited by the possibilities, but others are wary and skeptical.
AI is already being used to solve a wide range of modern problems. From medicine to marketing to productivity and beyond, AI is steadily advancing the quality of our lives.
But can AI make us happier? Let's see what the research says.
How "happiness tech" is increasing employee happiness and the corporate bottom line
Since 2006, Dr. Yano has been working on the idea of utilizing AI to measure an individual's happiness. Under his guidance, Hitachi developed special badges for individuals to wear that track activity patterns. The data from these badges is then measured against a user's subjective reports of happiness and objective data points like schedules and emails.
This combination of data allowed for accurate tracking of activities, events and interactions that were correlated with high levels of happiness. Dr. Yano even went so far as to create an app that provides personalized "happiness recommendations" to the employees based on the data collected. This app concept has been tested with more than 4,000 people in different environments.
Even now, there are several similar apps available for anyone to download. This means that anyone can try this AI technology.
Improving employee happiness helps businesses, too. Utilizing this AI technology allows companies to track what's called "psychological capital," a phrase coined by professor Fred Luthans. Helping employees improve their scores not only makes people happier, but also significantly increases productivity and profit for companies.
But what about using AI to make us happier outside of work? Happiness technologies have their place in our personal lives as well.
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Humans need personal connection to thrive. Can robots fill that void?
During lockdown, the importance of human connection was heavily underscored. At the same time, the necessity of AI and related technologies was also spotlighted. We have been relying on technology to keep the world running and keep us connected to friends and family.
We also depend on technology to keep us healthy and happy. In fact, without "happiness technologies" like video chats, entertainment, telehealth and online conferencing, we would live in a world that was incredibly fragmented and more psychologically difficult to bear.
Are AI bots the future of connection? Should they be?
One aspect of AI that has been crucial to many people's mental health during the pandemic is socialization. Chatbots and interactive robots have been able to at least partially meet our need for intelligent connection when we're feeling lonely.
An example of this is Mitsuku. Mitsuku is the world's most popular English-language chatbot and has won the coveted Loebner Prize (an annual Turing Test competition) five times. It is engagement-oriented and able to hold conversations that feel quite real.
Its maker, Steve Worswick, says, "Mitsuku doesn't pretend to be able to replace a real person, but she's always available if anyone needs her, instead of talking to the four walls." This shows an understanding of the AI bot's utility.
Another example of positive human-AI interactions is the adorable Cozmo robot. Cozmo is an AI-powered little robot with a constantly evolving set of skills and abilities based on human interactions. It can recognize faces, learn names and use facial expressions to convey different emotions. Again, it is not intended to replace human interactions, but to supplement them as needed.
In these cases, the question remains whether or not people should rely on technology so completely for communication. There are positives and potential negatives to the idea of forging human-like connections with AI.
One obvious advantage is that these robots are always available. They're never sleeping, busy or in a bad mood, so they can offer psychological support for people who feel alone. In the same vein, artificial intelligence can also monitor trends in a person's behaviors and speech patterns and notify loved ones if they detect changes. AI relationships can also be beneficial for people on the autism spectrum or those with speech difficulties. Robots never get impatient or offended, and they never tire of answering questions or responding to speech practice.
AI is a double-edged sword, however. Too much reliance on AI avatars for social interaction can potentially make a person less able to connect meaningfully with real-world people. There is a certain comfort and predictability to AI interactions. In some cases, this can hurt a person's ability to handle unpredictable and emotional human interactions.
Overall, I believe that AI is a valuable tool for helping people stay connected. It even has an important role to play in increasing a person's happiness by offering human-like connections in times of need.
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Emerging trends in AI technology
One problem that the business world has been working on for years is finding a reliable, discreet way to analyze the day-to-day activities of employees to increase productivity and engagement. Research clearly shows that happiness is correlated to better performance, so this trend of tracking and improving employee happiness has gained popularity.
On the back of this trend, AI is being used for robotic process automation (RPA) and content intelligence. These new technologies allow more freedom and opportunities for creative problem-solving at work because they take over many of the mundane, repetitive tasks that humans dislike.
Juniper Research estimates that these new tech trends will grow by about 400 percent in the financial sector, going from $200 million in 2018 to $1.2 billion in 2023. Clearly, RPA is a trend that is here to stay.
AI is doing even more for the financial sector, too. Intelligent information processing tech is helping employees more easily handle data flow. Financial institutions are also using it to streamline routine processes like account opening, loan issuance, tech support and data analysis. Such a considerable increase in efficiency goes a long way towards boosting employee happiness, which lowers turnover rates and attracts top talent.
Another trend of interest to the business sector involves using AI to identify important information about employees. The right tech can help management pinpoint which employees are strong, innovative leadership material as well as those who need improvement or are a drag on the overall workflow.
AI is here to stay, and it has the potential to make us happier
Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming an essential component of our day-to-day lives. From Alexa and Siri to Mitsuku and Cozmo, the fact is that AI can make us happier, healthier humans.
From a business standpoint, AI is already a key component of a long-term strategy to make employees feel happier and more engaged at work. Whether through mood tracking or simply freeing humans from repetitive tasks, I believe we'll see artificial intelligence taking on a much more significant role in corporations in the near future.
So, is AI making us happier? It looks that way. As we continue to explore the bounds of what artificial intelligence can do for our society, AI technologies will continue to improve our happiness and quality of life.
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