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AI’s Quest to Deliver Empathy
Artificial Intelligence, Future , Robotics , Startup , Venture Portfolio

As we exit the information age and enter the automation age, concern has (justifiably) arisen around the topic of disruption in the labor market. What human jobs will be replaced?

We consider that question from the standpoint of labor specialization. In a free labor market, machines will win the jobs that require speed, accuracy, and the ability to analyze lots of data. In our Manifesto, we argue that humans will win the jobs that require creativity, community, and empathy.

By definition, we’ve argued, humans can best deliver skills that require mutual human understanding. Creativity, community, and empathy each presume some level of human-to-human exchange that machines cannot replicate. 

The Automation-Empathy Curve

Automation exists on a continuum: from ‘pure AI’ to ‘human-in-the-loop AI’ to ‘human as AI’ to ‘pure human’ work. Along this continuum, as automation decreases and human involvement increases, the capacity for uniquely human skills increases.

Our portfolio reflects that thesis and our belief in opportunity along the entire automation-empathy curve:

  • Pure AI: – Unannounced investment. 
  • Human-in-the-loop AI: Spruce Labs – An AI platform that empowers retailers to improve the guest experience.
  • Human as AI: Invisible Technologies – Human labor to “automate” tasks based on specific work processes.
  • Pure Human: Enjoy – Hand delivers products bought online with a personalized setup experience.

But entrepreneurs are working to expand the automation-empathy curve. Robots that paint, provide companionship, or seek to understand a user’s circumstances and provide guidance are pushing the frontier of what machines can deliver. 

When a user declares her love to a helpful chatbot or laughs at a quirky robot, we begin to see the possibility for AI to deliver on the promise of what has been, up to this point, uniquely human capabilities. The same has been true for all work that has transitioned from human-only to either man+machine or pure automation. Perhaps we are simply experiencing the natural evolution of automation technology.

Climbing out of the Uncanny Valley

Take, for example, the third of our uniquely human skills: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. By definition, so long as it is known to the person that the “other” is not human (i.e., a machine), then the machine cannot deliver true empathy. However, if technologies like voice AI or robotics can advance beyond a user’s ability to know the difference between a person and a machine/AI, then the user could experience empathy.

We’re in the uncanny valley, a dip in the otherwise direct relationship between an object’s resemblance to a human and that object’s likability. When technology is uncannily or eerily close to human likeness, but not imperceptibly so, it triggers a negative response.

Soon, both humans and machines will relate to humans in indistinguishable ways. As AI climbs out of the uncanny valley we will increasingly experience creativity, community, and empathy as delivered by machines, but equally as enriching as the sort delivered by humans.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest or may invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we may write about companies that are in our portfolio. As managers of the portfolio, we may earn carried interest, management fees or other compensation from such portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making any investment decisions and provided solely for informational purposes. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections and the content on this site should not be relied upon. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make. 

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