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Can AI Demonstrate Empathy? A Brief Conversation with ChatGPT About Loneliness, Narcissism, Robots, and AI

Discover the shocking truth behind the loneliness epidemic, the negative impacts of narcissism, and the future implications of robots and AI on genuine human connection. Uncover how you can increase real-life connections, foster empathy, and navigate the complexities of our digital world.

Priya Bains
Priya Bains

There appear to be two points of view on whether AI will create a utopia of human connection or a hellscape of hyper-intelligence where humans no longer serve any value.

According to Mo Gawdat, in conversation with Peter Diamandis on the Moonshots and Mindsets podcast, we’ll likely land somewhere in between and experience all of it along the way. How we engage with each other and AI will be what truly matters.

In the meantime, we may want to be wary, as things aren't looking too bright for us mere mortals.  In our hyperconnected world, too many people are feeling lonely and many are referring to our current state of affairs as a loneliness epidemic.

Why an epidemic?  According to a Forbes article by Bryan Robinson Ph.D, loneliness is as bad as smoking, negatively impacts mental health, and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. In contrast, social connection drops the risk of early death by 50%.  From a career perspective, social connection leads to twice as many raises, improves the chance of a promotion by 18 times, and reduces sick days by 75%.

What's the bigger picture? According to Statistica, the Global Average for people who "Often/Always/Some of the times" feel alone is 33%.  Canada and the United States sit close to this average at 31%.  However, India sits at 43% loneliness, Turkey at 46%, and 50% of Brazil's population claims to feel lonely at least some of the time. The countries that had the fewest claims of loneliness were the Netherlands at 15% and Japan at 16%.

If we dive deeper, looking at trends outlined in a recent US Surgeon General Report, social isolation increased from 142.5 hours per month in 2003 to 166.5 hours per month in 2020. On average, people were spending an additional 24 hours per month socially isolated. Time spent with friends decreased from 30 hours per month in 2003 to 10 hours per month in 2020. Companionship, shared leisure for enjoyment, and intrinsic satisfaction decreased by 14 hours per month between 2003 and 2020. Unsurprisingly, these trends were accelerated by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Though I, like many of you, have read about and heard others speak about the loneliness pandemic more broadly, my attention was drawn to the US Surgeon General Report, through Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a well-renowned expert on narcissistic personality styles. In her YouTube video, The Loneliness Epidemic and Narcissistic Relationships, she contends that people who have been in narcissistic, toxic, or antagonistic relationships experience tremendous loneliness.  They feel a sense of isolation, otherness, disconnection, and not having a space to land like a caring and loving family. I highly encourage you to watch the entire video, for more context, here.

Lastly, Peter Diamandis spoke to Dr. Rana about AI and empathy.  Can AIs demonstrate empathy?  How will they learn about empathy?

All these factors creatively came together as part of a creative activity we're asked to complete when participating in the overall OpenExO Experience.

They led to the following question that I asked ChatGPT:

What are your thoughts about the loneliness epidemic, narcissism, and the proliferation of robots and AI in the near future?  How can humans increase real-life connection and understanding?

I then built upon this question with two further revisions:

  1. How do you as an AI define genuine human connection?
  2. Would you revise your original answer to this question "what are your thoughts about the loneliness epidemic, narcissism, and the proliferation of robots and AI in the near future?  How can humans increase real-life connection and understanding?"

To avoid making this too long, here is a sampling of ChatGPTs initial response to my question. I share only headings and introductory sentences so that you can feel the essence of ChatGPTs response:

"As an AI, I don't have personal thoughts or emotions, but I can provide an analysis based on the information available to me.

The loneliness epidemic, narcissism, and the proliferation of robots and AI are interconnected phenomena that have both positive and negative implications for human connection and understanding.

Loneliness epidemic: Loneliness has become a growing concern in modern society, with various factors contributing to its prevalence, such as increased urbanization, changes in social structures, and the rise of technology.

Narcissism: The proliferation of social media and self-promotion platforms has contributed to the rise of narcissistic tendencies.

The proliferation of robots and AI: The advancement of robots and AI offers numerous benefits, such as increased efficiency, improved productivity, and new opportunities in various fields.

Increasing real-life connection and understanding: To enhance real-life connections and understanding, several strategies can be beneficial.

Foster face-to-face interactions

Promote active listening and empathy

Prioritize quality over quantity

Limit technology use

Practice mindfulness

Encourage diverse experiences

Promote mental health and well-being

It's important to recognize that while technology can facilitate connections, it should be used as a tool to enhance human experiences, rather than replacing genuine connections. By adopting a balanced approach and prioritizing meaningful relationships, we can increase real-life connection and understanding in an increasingly digital world."

You'll notice the reply above is somewhat clinical and academic.

I then asked ChatGPT: How do you as an AI define genuine human connection?

This was ChatGPTs response:

"As an AI, I don't possess personal experiences or emotions, so I don't have a subjective understanding of genuine human connection. However, I can provide a general definition based on common understanding.

Genuine human connection refers to the meaningful and authentic bond formed between individuals based on mutual understanding, empathy, trust, and shared experiences. It goes beyond superficial interactions and involves a deep sense of emotional and psychological connection. Genuine human connection typically entails:

Emotional resonance: A shared sense of understanding and empathy, where individuals can relate to each other's emotions, thoughts, and experiences.

Authenticity: The ability to be oneself without pretense or masks, and feeling accepted and valued for who one truly is.

Trust and vulnerability: A willingness to open up and share personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences without fear of judgment or betrayal.

Mutual support: Offering and receiving support, encouragement, and compassion in times of need or distress.

Active listening: Giving full attention to others, showing genuine interest, and responding empathetically to their thoughts and feelings.

Shared experiences: Building connections through shared activities, conversations, and moments that create lasting memories.

Reciprocity: A balanced exchange of communication, understanding, and support, where both individuals contribute to the relationship.

Genuine human connection is characterized by a sense of belonging, emotional closeness, and a deep appreciation for the uniqueness and well-being of the other person. It requires ongoing effort, investment, and nurturing to cultivate and maintain strong connections with others."

Finally, I asked ChatGPT:

Would you revise your original answer to this question "What are your thoughts about the loneliness epidemic, narcissism, and the proliferation of robots and AI in the near future?  How can humans increase real-life connection and understanding?" based on your understanding of genuine human connection, which sounds pretty good! (Providing a little positive reinforcement to keep ChatGPT happy).

Here is ChatGPTs reply which enhances the details that ChatGPT included in the full version of the original response:

"Certainly! Taking into account the understanding of genuine human connection, I can revise the original answer to better align with that perspective. Here's the revised response:

The loneliness epidemic, narcissism, and the proliferation of robots and AI are interconnected phenomena that have both positive and negative implications for genuine human connection and understanding.

Loneliness epidemic: Genuine human connection can serve as a powerful antidote to the loneliness epidemic. By fostering emotional resonance, authenticity, and mutual support, individuals can create meaningful connections that alleviate feelings of isolation. Promoting community engagement, nurturing supportive relationships, and prioritizing mental health awareness are vital in addressing the loneliness epidemic.

Narcissism: Genuine human connection encourages empathy, active listening, and a focus on others rather than oneself, countering narcissistic tendencies. By cultivating authenticity, vulnerability, and genuine interest in others, individuals can build meaningful relationships based on mutual understanding. Encouraging mindfulness, promoting face-to-face interactions, and emphasizing the value of genuine connections can help mitigate the negative effects of narcissism.

Proliferation of robots and AI: While robots and AI offer efficiency and productivity benefits, they should be integrated in ways that enhance genuine human connection rather than replace it. By recognizing the unique qualities of human interaction, such as emotional resonance and empathy, individuals can ensure that technology complements, rather than hinders, genuine connection. Balancing technology use, promoting human-centric approaches to AI development, and valuing the emotional aspects of connections can foster real-life understanding and connection.

Increasing real-life connection and understanding: To enhance genuine human connection and understanding, individuals can adopt the following strategies:

Foster face-to-face interactions: Prioritize in-person meetings, shared activities, and meaningful conversations to cultivate deeper connections and empathy.

Practice active listening and empathy: Show genuine interest, seek to understand others' perspectives, and respond empathetically. This fosters understanding and strengthens relationships.

Cultivate authenticity and vulnerability: Be true to oneself, encourage open and honest communication, and create a safe space for others to express themselves. This fosters genuine connections built on trust and mutual understanding.

Limit technology use: Set boundaries on technology usage to create space for genuine human interactions and minimize distractions that may hinder connection.

Embrace diverse experiences: Seek out opportunities to engage with diverse cultures, perspectives, and ideas. This broadens understanding, promotes empathy, and enriches connections.

Prioritize quality over quantity: Focus on building a few meaningful relationships rather than pursuing a large network of superficial connections. Quality interactions deepen understanding and foster a sense of belonging.

Promote mental health and well-being: Support systems for mental health, raising awareness about the importance of emotional well-being, and providing resources for coping with loneliness can contribute to stronger connections and understanding.

By adopting a human-centric approach, valuing empathy and emotional connection, and prioritizing meaningful relationships, individuals can increase genuine human connection and understanding in an increasingly digital world."

While there are arguments to be made about ChatGPTs approach to narcissism, I'll let Dr. Ramani, or her AI, iron out those details.  In the meantime, perhaps we can foster more empathy in AI by constantly reminding it to think about the meaning of genuine human connection, empathy, compassion, and true understanding. Though the differences may be subtle, after considering genuine human connection, ChatGPT evolved its response towards having a human-centric approach.  Not bad for three prompts!


Diamandis, Peter, and Rana el Kaliouby. 2023. “AI's Moral Dilemma: Are We Building Our Own Nightmare?” Ep. #49. Moonshots and Mindsets.

Diamandis, Peter, and Mo Gawdat. 2023. “AI Expert's Urgen Wake-Up Call: Unveiling the Silent Threat w/ Mo Gawdat,” Ep. #51. Moonshots and Mindsets.

Durvasula, Ramani. 2023. “The Loneliness Epidemic and Narcissistic Relationships.” YouTube.

“Loneliness among adults worldwide by country 2021.” 2022. Statista.

Robinson, Bryan. 2020. “U.S. Surgeon General Cites Loneliness As Serious Mental Health Hazard In New Report.” Forbes.

U.S. Office of the Surgeon General. 2023. “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.”

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Priya Bains

Priya Bains: Business Coach for Innovators, Ph.D. I-O Psychology, 20+ years coaching/consulting. Her work is based in research on motivation, creativity, innovation, productivity, teams, & leadership.