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Back To Blog > The Good, the Bad and the AI – Identity and Artificial Intelligence


This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

Recently, The Guardian released an article written by a robot who was asked to assure humans that robots are peaceful. Artificial Intelligence bot GPT-3 was asked to write a 500-word article on the subject of human-robot interactions, it was fed an introduction and then continued to write a fully coherent article based on this brief [1]. For some, this advanced artificial intelligence is truly spectacular. But for others, this may be a cause for alarm for several reasons. For example, some may feel that artificial intelligence will replace humans in all aspects of life, making human beings less useful, eventually outperforming us in every way and thus presenting a feeling of “redundancy”. But is this feeling justified? Could AI replace us and lead to a loss of identity or could it present opportunities to explore our purpose further? Can we ever replace human social practices with artificial interactions without negatively affecting our wellbeing?

Our personality, identity and social characteristics

Whilst there is much research into whether robots can develop personalities, it is clear to all that developing a healthy, human personality is extremely important to our social functioning and most theories agree that social interactions are key to this development. Psychoanalytical theories suggest that our personality is mainly a result of the unconscious and form from early childhood experiences (Freud, Jung). Developmental psychologists, such as Eric Erikson, suggest that the formation of identity is one of the most important parts of a person’s life and can shift and grow as people confront new challenges and tackle different experiences. During our teenage years, people can often struggle between feelings of identity vs. role confusion. James Marcia (1980) and colleagues suggest that we must commit to an identity to be at our most happy and considers our occupational role, beliefs and values, and sexuality as three key areas we must explore.

Human-robot interactions

A huge goal in robot development is to build trust with people [3] and much research and development has investigated ways of allowing robots to develop different personalities and identities. Heather Knight, a prominent computer scientist, conducted a study into people’s perceptions of intelligence and personality. One experiment focused on whether robot motion could effectively communicate distinct robot personalities, namely a robot vacuum cleaner and the personalities of the seven dwarfs. Research found that participants could recognise Happy, Sleepy and Grumpy through movement patterns alone. Other research has also found that participants could identify a robot’s personality from its verbal and non-verbal behaviours [4]. In addition to this, research has suggested that humans can make real emotional connections with robots and products which feature characteristics of being alive [5]. However, interaction with robots cannot fully satisfy the negative effect of social exclusion. Social interactions are vitally important to our development and, although some needs can be met by interaction with artificial intelligence, our willingness to engage in prosocial behaviour can be reduced [5]. So why is human-to-human interaction so important to us?

Artificial Intelligence and identity crisis

In such a fast paced, ever changing world, it can be very easy to feel “lost” or “confused” about our identity and purpose. And whilst it is understood that AI is having impacts on jobs and employment, there is very little open concern about the effects AI can have on our identities and social practices. With much of our self-worth often derived from our working lives, AI could encroach on this, meaning our identities will take a hit on the first of Marcia’s suggested key values and could lead to identity crisis. An identity crisis is defined as “a time of extensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself” and Erikson emphasises the importance of social aspect of personality formation. Four identity statuses have been identified:

  1. Identity achievement is a commitment to one identity after a period of exploration.
  2. Moratorium is a person who is exploring different identities but is yet to commit to one
  3. Foreclosure status is when a person has made a commitment without attempting identity exploration.
  4. Identity diffusion occurs when there is neither an identity crisis or commitment leading to a feeling of being “out of place”.

People may experience an identity crisis at various points throughout life, often during times of change, but this does not have to be a time of despair. These may include the end of a relationship, the starting of a new job or the birth of a child [2]. In reference to AI, this could include the introduction of AI into a persons life, workplace or school environment. These periods can allow for greater exploration of our core values. Following the imposed restrictions on many people’s ability to work due to the coronavirus outbreak, this subject is something that is vital to explore. Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. And whether it is driven by the impact of AI on our lives, it is clear we will all continue to experience times of change. Karen Horney (1942), suggests that a sense of being isolated and alone in the world is a huge factor in anxiety and neurotic behaviours. She emphasised the role societal and cultural factors play in the development of personality, including the importance of the parent-child relationship [6]. Having strong human support networks to help deal with these times is vitally important. AI may be coming into our lives more and more, but it cannot replace human-to-human interaction. With that in mind, we all must work together to create an identity we are all proud of should we want to thrive in the future.  

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

  1. GPT-3. A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? The Guardian [Internet]. 2020 [cited 13/9/20]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/08/robot-wrote-this-article-gpt-3
  2. Cherry K. Identity Crisis. Very Well Mind [Internet]. 2019 [cited 13/9/20]. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-an-identity-crisis-2795948
  3. Escalante A. Research proves your Roomba has a personality. Psychology Today [Internet]. 2020 [cited 13/9/20]. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/shouldstorm/202005/research-proves-your-roomba-has-personality
  4. Kwan Min Lee, Wei Peng, Seung-A Jin, Chang Yan, Can Robots Manifest Personality?: An Empirical Test of Personality Recognition, Social Responses, and Social Presence in Human–Robot Interaction, Journal of Communication, Volume 56, Issue 4, December 2006, Pages 754–772, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00318.x
  5. James A Mourey, Jenny G Olson, Carolyn Yoon, Products as Pals: Engaging with Anthropomorphic Products Mitigates the Effects of Social Exclusion, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 44, Issue 2, August 2017, Pages 414–431, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucx038
  6. Cherry K. Karen Horneys Theory of Neurotic Needs. Very Well Mind [Internet]. 2019 [cited 13/9/20]. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/horneys-list-of-neurotic-needs-2795949#:~:text=Psychoanalytic%20theorist%20Karen%20Horney%20developed,on%20the%20appearance%20of%20needs.
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