The Interface of AI and Human Emotion
by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Creator, AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness (AIEW) refers to the broad interface of the cognitive abilities of artificial intelligence and the complexity of human emotions. Acknowledging the irreplaceable importance of authentic, in-person communication, AIEW focuses on how artificial intelligence can foster emotional well-being.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science that enables machines to perform tasks that traditionally require human cognitive abilities. Essentially, AI empowers computers to think and act like people.
Emotional wellness, as defined by The National Center for Emotional Wellness, is an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings and the ability to navigate challenges and change.
At first glance, AI and emotional wellness appear to reside in two worlds: a world of thought and a world of feelings. AIEW addresses the interface of artificial intelligence with emotional wellness—focusing on how computers interact with and help people on an emotional level.
"Emotional AI," also known as "affective computing" or "artificial emotional intelligence," refers to the development of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, simulate, and react to emotions (MIT, Sloan. Somers, M., 2019). However, AIEW focuses on how artificial intelligence can foster emotional wellness.
The application of AIEW is virtually endless and provides a critical bridge between AI and emotional well-being. Nevertheless, teaching machines to understand and replicate human emotion presents significant challenges. Traditional face-to-face interpersonal communication fosters empathy, warmth, genuineness, compassion, trust, intimacy, non-verbal cues, shared experience, history, confidentiality, human connectivity, and more. All variables must be considered when integrating technology.
AI executives, leaders, managers, scientists, engineers, architects, and developers must collaborate with professionals with expertise in addressing emotional wellness. With their knowledge, skill, experience, training, and education, these experts have studied the connections between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
One well-supported approach that exemplifies the importance of collaboration in this field is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has become a widely accepted standard of care in mental health. CBT empowers people to achieve emotional well-being by helping them to identify and challenge maladaptive thought patterns. This leads to more positive thinking, improved emotional well-being, and enhanced overall functioning.
Emotional wellness encompasses more than just recognizing, understanding, and accepting our feelings. It also involves our capacity to navigate through difficult situations and adapt to change. A decade ago, I mounted a theatrical production, "SESSIONS with Dr. Mark Lerner," where real-life stories were shared in an unscripted therapeutic setting to demonstrate how people overcame challenges and became the individuals they are today. This approach aligns harmoniously with emotional well-being.
To promote emotional wellness within the realm of AIEW, AI leaders and experts must take into account two key aspects: 1) recognizing and accepting one's own emotions through self-awareness, understanding, and acceptance, and 2) harnessing the power of emotions, particularly those arising from challenges, to propel themselves to achieve emotional wellness. I often emphasize that challenges don't define us. How we respond to them often does.
As our world increasingly embraces artificial intelligence, AIEW will continue to address the complexities of integrating AI with emotional wellness. However, we must always recognize the essential human need for traditional face-to-face communication and its associated ethical considerations. While AI offers convenience and efficiency in digital communication, it cannot replace the profound, genuine human connection and understanding from in-person experiences. We must continue to value and prize them.