Your Chatbot Conversation Could Generate Real Emotions

Those long talks can make you feel better

  • A Cleveland man says he fell in love with a chatbot, and some experts say the story is credible. 
  • The key to close human-chatbot relations is the sophisticated software behind the bots. 
  • In the future, chatbots will be able to talk or text with you in any language and offer expert advice.
A robot and a person sharing a living space.

Donald Iain Smith / Getty Images

With millions of people conversing every day online with chatbots, it's no surprise that some people are forming emotional connections with these programs, experts say. 

Take the recent case of a Cleveland man who was on the verge of divorcing his wife but says that his virtual bot girlfriend powered by artificial intelligence saved his marriage. It's an example of how virtual conversations can lead to real feelings. 

"Using AI, chatbots are able to detect user sentiment and adjust their responses, accordingly displaying cheerfulness, empathy, or sensitivity as required," Beerud Sheth, the CEO of Gupshup, a company that makes AI-powered chatbots, told Lifewire in an email interview. "While the emotion may be simulated, it will feel very real to the user." 

Artificial Love

In the Cleveland situation, a 41-year-old software engineer was paying $15 a month to speak with an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot, he told Sky News. He was about to divorce his wife last year after their communication suffered. But the man told the news outlet that the talks with the chatbot gave new life to his real relationship. 

The chatbot user fell in love with the computer program. Eventually, he decided to transfer his feelings for the chatbot to his wife, and their relationship improved. 

Sheth finds the story credible. "The user neither knows nor cares whether it's a bot or a human—it will just appear human," he said. "Therefore, it's not just possible, but very probable, for humans to form an emotional connection with chatbots."

Real Feelings

The key to close human-chatbot relations is the sophisticated software behind the bots. AI is capable of reaching and, in some cases, exceeding human performance in specific tasks, including image recognition and language understanding, Pieter Buteneers, director of engineering in machine learning and AI at messaging software company Sinch, told Lifewire by email. 

With natural language processing (NLP), AI systems can interpret, write and speak languages as well as humans. The AI can even adjust its dialect and/or tone to align with its human peers, Buteneers said. 

A robot hand typing on a laptop keyboard.

baona / Getty Images

"However, AI is still a machine—it doesn't have human emotion or common sense, so it can make some mistakes that humans never would," Buteneers added. "While some worry that AI will replace human jobs, the reality is we'll always need people working alongside AI bots to help keep them in check and keep these mistakes at bay while maintaining a human touch in business."

Advances in NLP are revolutionizing the way AI and humans interact, Buteneers said. Chatbots can understand hundreds of languages at a time, and AI assistants can scan bodies of text for answers to questions or irregularities. 

"Some algorithms can even identify when messages are fraudulent, which can help businesses and consumers alike to weed out spam messages," he added. "NLP is massively valuable for businesses: it helps automate processes to save time and resources, and boosts the customer and user experience."

Relationships with chatbots can be useful to people, Sheth said. While previous generations of computers forced humans to behave like computers, conversational technologies force computers to behave like humans. 

"It's not just possible, but very probable, for humans to form an emotional connection with chatbots."

"This will make computer technologies more accessible and usable to more users," he added. "Conversational computers will be our assistants, helpers, advisors, teachers, therapists, or friends. They will make our lives simpler."

In the future, chatbots will be able to talk or text with you in any language, Sheth predicted. The bots will offer expertise in areas such as fashion, career development, and finance. 

"They will make our lives more efficient, enabling us to do more things in less time," Sheth said. "In the future, we will each have many chatbot friends that will free us to spend more time with our human friends and family."

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