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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Can Bots Help Us Deal with Grief?

Evan Selinger
Originally posted March 13, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

Muhammad is under no illusion that he’s speaking with the dead. To the contrary, Muhammad is quick to point out the simulation he created works well when generating scripts of predictable answers, but it has difficulty relating to current events, like a presidential election. In Muhammad’s eyes, this is a feature, not a bug.

Muhammad said that “out of good conscience” he didn’t program the simulation to be surprising, because that capability would deviate too far from the goal of “personality emulation.”

This constraint fascinates me. On the one hand, we’re all creatures of habit. Without habits, people would have to deliberate before acting every single time. This isn’t practically feasible, so habits can be beneficial when they function as shortcuts that spare us from paralysis resulting from overanalysis.


The empty chair technique that I’m referring to was popularized by Friedrich Perls (more widely known as Fritz Perls), a founder of Gestalt therapy. The basic setup looks like this: Two chairs are placed near each other; a psychotherapy patient sits in one chair and talks to the other, unoccupied chair. When talking to the empty chair, the patient engages in role-playing and acts as if a person is seated right in front of her — someone to whom she has something to say. After making a statement, launching an accusation, or asking a question, the patient then responds to herself by taking on the absent interlocutor’s perspective.

In the case of unresolved parental issues, the dialog could have the scripted format of the patient saying something to her “mother,” and then having her “mother” respond to what she said, going back and forth in a dialog until something that seems meaningful happens. The prop of an actual chair isn’t always necessary, and the context of the conversations can vary. In a bereavement context, for example, a widow might ask the chair-as-deceased-spouse for advice about what to do in a troubling situation.

The article is here.