Artificial Intelligence (AI) conjures up thoughts of robots taking over, automation, logic, and a lack of emotion. Although AI initially appears to be about making machines intelligent, it also enables us to learn more about what it means to be human. Strange as it may seem, AI can help us be more human, especially in our online communication.

We humans are amazing at face-to-face communication. Our Emotional Intelligence (EI) helps us pick up on the many clues which help us understand how our message is being interpreted by the recipient: we see their body language, facial expressions, and hear the tone of their voice. Face-to-face, we can deal with any miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Online communication, such as email and text messaging, is missing these clues and brings additional challenges because of the Online Disinhibition Effect [1]. This means we can come across as showing a lack of empathy towards the recipient of our message. We cannot immediately see the effect of our messages, so adjusting their tone and meaning can be slow and cumbersome and result in lengthy and increasingly difficult exchanges. We have all been confused and frustrated by others’ messages, yet we rarely stop to think if we are frustrating them with our messages.

We tend to think that the meaning and tone of the message in our head is accurately represented in text. After all, it makes sense to us and we usually don’t think about whether it will make sense to the recipient. We simply want to type and hit that send button as quickly as possible and move onto our next task. We lose our Emotional Intelligence too easily online.

This is where AI can help us. Although AI does not yet understand the meaning of our conversations, it can analyse key components of them and reflect that analysis back to us in real-time. AI can act like a trusted friend or colleague, scanning our words and encouraging us to make changes to ensure our message is not misinterpreted. Just like that trusted friend, it can see things that we have overlooked: perhaps your tone is too negative, or you want to be assertive but come across as aggressive.

We are already using spelling and grammar checkers, so let’s have AI check the sentiment of our words and check how our message could be misunderstood. AI can build models of how we use language to communicate and how people might react to our written messages. By scanning our text using Natural Language Processing, and comparing with communication models, AI can make predictions about how someone may interpret, or misinterpret, your message. Using AI to help us increase EI in our online communication is a great use of technology. It helps us reflect on what we write and learn to communicate better.

1 – Suler, John (June 2004). “The Online Disinhibition Effect”. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 7: 321–326. doi:10.1089/1094931041291295

“Dr. Chris McKillop is CEO of ‘Turalt – the technology of empathy’ She believes empathy is at the heart of our communication, and that technology can help us learn to communicate more effectively by improving our digital emotional intelligence. Chris has a background in AI and learning and is passionate about how AI and empathy can help improve people’s lives.”

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