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CHAPTER I - Darwinian Buttons

Einfühlung. Introduced into the English language in 1909 by psychologist Edward Titchener, the term “empathy” is often used to describe a wide range of emotional states and or the ability to separate oneself from the other. Scientific research shows that “empathy” is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and is an innate human capacity indicative of prosocial behavior. MIT’s Sherry Turkle described empathy as a relational, reflective concept. It does not begin with “I know how you feel.” It begins with the realization that you don’t know how another feels. So it begins with an offer of conversation: ‘Tell me how you feel.’ It’s an offer of accompaniment and commitment.

In psychology, two research traditions have emerged: cognitive empathy and affective empathy. Cognitive empathy research—or perspective taking—concerns itself with the reliability and accuracy of a human’s ability to identify and understand another’s emotion. For example, when a close colleague receives a promotion at work, your ability to recognize and understand his or her excitement for the promotion is a cognitive function. Affective empathy, on the other hand, is one’s ability to share in the feelings and perspectives of another. In the same example, a shared feeling of excitement for your colleague’s promotion illustrates an affective response. While empathy is a biological response, it nonetheless requires cultivation and practice. For example, empathy training in patient-provider relationships is documented to have positive effects with evidence showing an increase in both patient satisfaction and compliance, and enhances a practitioner’s ability to treat patients. In another example, researchers from the University of Southern California helped advance AI techniques in the use of socially-assistive robots to help teach social skills to children with autism. For Turkle, “good, old-fashioned empathy” depends on the lived experiences of human life like growing older, feeling fear, hunger, or being alone.

But, why is “good, old-fashioned empathy” important?

Moral philosophy suggests empathy is a key element of being human, as both social and moral beings (though, empathy has also been studied to be exhibited in animals, such as primates; and has been criticized as a poor guide for moral reasoning). Turkle further explained:
Human empathy is a relational concept because it does something to the person who offers it. . . When you have a growing awareness of how much you don’t know about someone else, you begin to understand how much you don’t know about yourself, you learn a more demanding kind of attention, you learn patience, and you learn a new skill.
These skills parlay to social structure. It is through empathy that humans gain intimacy with one another. Without it, how does one negotiate the “inevitable conflicts between their egoistic needs and their social obligation,” noted Martin Hoffman in Empathy and Moral Development. Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, has long suggested the inextricable relationship between inequality and social empathy. He explained in 2004:
Any society depends upon empathy in order for people to be able to answer the question, 'What do we owe one another as members of the same society?' Indeed, without empathy, the very meaning of a society is up for grabs.
This then begs the question: if empathy is critical for both individual development and societal endurance, what do we make of artificial and or simulated empathy?

Turkle once again offers a starting point. In her opening statement, she presented the negotiation between human psychology and artificial proximations, like affective computing. It is in this new paradigm that artificial intimacy becomes an assault on empathy.Turkle described that until recently, concepts like affect, emotion, and empathy were fully within the human domain. Today, however, affect and emotion have been operationalized as something computers can appear to have; and if history repeats itself, then empathy must not be too far behind.

 
 
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