How AI can Increase Empathy

Luis Miguel Samperio About Neurocinematics And Empathy

I met Luis Miguel Samperio in Madrid. Before we dive in, let me make an important point: I made a number of interviews with very different individuals throughout the world, and yet this one may be the most interesting and inspiring I ever did.

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From Building Architecture to Human Architecture

Luis Miguel introduces himself as someone who always had a knack for several related fields. Perhaps he is what Nassim Taleb calls a motivated flâneur—someone who navigates erudition with a curious, flexible outlook.

At the beginning, Luis Miguel studied architecture, “a field where creativity meets with technology.” Then, he says, the three-dimensional modeling program got the most of his attention. The “sense of the whole” he felt while arranging the disposition of walls, rooftops, up to “where to put the Sun” hooked him enough to wish he would pursue his studies, not in architecture, but in computer science.

Luis Miguel then focused on cutting-edge IT science, especially artificial intelligence (AI). He did not know what he exactly wanted to do but followed his intuition. “Academic or technical fields I crossed would help me towards a greater goal.”

Eventually, the far-reaching aim appeared. Luis Miguel’s project would consist in “integrating high-tech tools into humans”, although I would say that the reverse, integrating humans into high-tech tools, is true as well. Along with artificial intelligence, Luis Miguel leaned towards natural one: he dabbled with psychology, or cognitive sciences, that start from the premise of mind working more or less like a computer, to know how the human mind(s) work.

Consciousness Hacking

To build upon the dream, Luis Miguel chose to jump in the wagon of a Silicon Valley-initiated group, Consciousness Hacking (CH). He organized the first CH meet-up in Madrid. CH meet-ups happen all around the world, and Luis Miguel’s is a leading one in Spain. Specialists of various fields, ranging from virtual reality to ophthalmology, rub shoulders there.

According to Luis Miguel, CH serves “inner human development.” “There is a lot of talk on how to change the world, serve a greater cause… well, the very first source of action and change is ourselves.” Working on oneself comes first, changing the rest comes after. Luis Miguel remembers the saying of an ex-roommate of his: “yesterday I was clever and wanted to change the world, now I am wise and want to change myself.”

CH could have been dubbed consciousness networking. Or consciousness merging. Luis Miguel’s view of the initiative aims to an “empathetic” and “hyper-connected future.” And Luis Miguel is far from being alone: the Madrid hub was, and still is, a springboard to contact researchers. A particular university in Slovakia readily answered the call by sending no less than specialists from IT, psychology, and aesthetics departments.

The EmpaticaVR Project

The collective project pursued by the Madrid hub is also an idea of Luis Miguel. He called it EmpaticaVR. What does this mean? In a nutshell: the project is about “experiencing the world from another character or point of view through virtual reality storytelling.” Writers make up a story, create characters with the help of psychologists, IT men with an edge on three-dimensional modelling or coding create a world, and everyone then inhabits characters or roles inside the virtual world. “The psychological makeup these characters have depend from particular theories in psychology”, Luis Miguel adds.

The EmpaticaVR virtual worlds would tell their immersed users—through experience, of course—something like “hey, character X is you and X’ is how you perceive the world, this is okay but you must know that there are other characters as well and this is how they perceive.”

“I want to massively spread empathy and compassion around the world. In an interconnected, or a hyper-connected world, the most needed quality is also the most humane one. It is about putting oneself in anther’s shoes.” A strange paradox when said from modelling, coding and artificial intelligence! Used this way, immersive universes could reduce conflict and improve mutual understanding.

In real life, Luis Miguel mentions, a lot of projection happens. Individuals see the world through their own focuses and past memories. This would make us perceive “in a very limited way.” We see the world as if through a cone. We also inhabit a narrative because minds were designed to do so. The immersive worlds at EmpaticaVR allow one to inhabit another character than himself, inside a narrative one did not choose, and thus could see firsthand how someone else sees the world. “So”, Luis Miguel supposes, “this is how my mom or wife sees the world—I understand her now!”

Short Term Prospects

At the Near Future Forum Luis Miguel met with a specialist of AI who creates characters for video games. As game engines constantly grow in ability and complexity, non-playing characters can become less straightly rule-based, more subtle in their behavior. EmpaticaVR will follow the same trends. The immersive worlds Luis Miguel wants to put people into will support ever-increased stories, evermore-complex characters and plots, and constantly improve in immersiveness.

Biometric technologies are also coming into play. Sensors will be integrated to the virtual reality devices as to know in real time how people react to the virtual universe they are into. Heartbeat, blushes, galvanic skin responses or gaze direction will be computed, thus allowing the AI to adjust the content of the virtual world or “answer” the user in real time as well. “This is called reactive content, and this is going to explode”, Luis Miguel says. Not unlike the Internet of things perhaps.

So far EmpaticaVR works mostly like a serious game. It should go, though, much beyond this scope. Luis Miguel trusts the ability of well-thought immersion to put people in other people’s shoes and improve drastically everything that relates to sociability. Understanding, relationships, up to happiness. “A Harvard study showed that the single best predictor for happiness was the quality of one’s relationships.”

Improved empathy—I suggested to call it “empathy+”—would then foster better, happier relationships.

Long Term Prospects

“Westerners have been looking for meaning, answers”, Luis Miguel says. “They must realize we are in a hyperconnected world.” EmpaticaVR would help raising awareness of human globalization. With every individual connecting and putting herself in someone else’s shoes will “rise different worlds, not only the Western one.”

Humans, Luis Miguel thinks, are going to “merge.” Everyone’s small, particular cone will join and enrich a wider “cone” made of several individuals, with more and more people until everyone is plugged in.

This would amount to an important, if not crucial, aspect of singularity. If we can stop aging or upload our minds into a computer, we may be able to live forever. Yet, Luis Miguel adds, “I don’t want to live forever if I don’t have a feeling of connection with the rest of people.” What is the point of living forever as an idiot?

Along with singularity, there is a need for empathy-larity. What will happen with technology shall also happen with consciousness. Startup companies are already working on connecting brains with other brains. There will be many steps for sure, but a great work, one day, may very much be achieved: every human brain will be connected with each other. Perhaps brains will even merge somehow.

Before it is so, Luis Miguel says, working towards this higher goal will give a purpose and a much-improved life to many people. As the EmpaticaVR system will grow, coders will try to make it able to feed itself through AI. Connected together in a new sense, empathy-leaning individuals shall foster a “new empathetic civilization.”

The Biggest Challenges

When I ask him about the most important challenges he faces, Luis Miguel surprisingly abstains from mentioning technological difficulties but instead refers to very human ones. According to him, the EmpaticaVR project faces two human – all too human – challenges:

  1. People are not naturally aware of their limitations as individuals. As they project without knowing they do, laymen are also prone to think along the lines of “the way I am is how everyone should be.” We would naturally think like this to avoid cognitive dissonance. Gently taking other individuals’ or characters’ point of view would help going beyond this and changing oneself. But before individuals do so, they must be made aware of their need for connected empathy – or lack of.
  2. The project needs financial backing. Most investors, Luis Miguel says, do not grasp the higher goal. EmpaticaVR “high in the Maslow pyramid of needs.” Being less fundamental, less evident than more basic needs, and more sophisticated in how it addresses them, the project would need comprehensive – and disinterested – investors.

A Note about Luis Miguel

At this point I am curious enough to ask Luis Miguel to tell more about himself. He answers me with a refreshing honesty on who he is. “I am a hypersensible person or HSP.” At a young age, Luis Miguel would feel “extremely impacted” by the world and what happens around. Other individuals’ feelings would overwhelm him to the point that he could not distinguish between their feelings and his own! A hyper-triggered mode of perception, which would sometimes allow for a more precise or attuned consciousness of the world, but also cause Luis Miguel to end up “too much impacted by whomever I saw, especially those suffering.”

To escape overstimulation, Luis Miguel looked for silence. There he sensed a direction – that would ultimately lead him to what he is doing now.

The EmpaticaVR project is a personal calling, mixing who I am as a person with important quality… it is about merging consciousness, seeing humanity not as something separate but as part of the same human family [than oneself]. We all live on a pale blue dot. From this outsider perspective, there is no separation between oneself and others.

How to be Future Fit?

When I ask him, as I always do, if he thinks of any advice to be future-proof or future-ready, Luis Miguel gives two.

  1. Read a lot. Knowledge is vast. It has been built up for centuries, so, you should better start now. If you do not know where to start from, look for the future section of the closest bookshop. Luis Miguel advises to pick up Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity Is Near, Peter Diamandis’ Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, and any book by Ken Wilber
  2. Experience life. “Get out, talk to people… every person out there knows something you do not.”

To know more about Luis Miguel’s EmpaticaVR project, visit his Consciousness Hacking meet-up page

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