The West has this bizarre fixation with tech and automation replacing humans while the East always has a competitive edge to try everything new. Driverless tubes. Autonomous commercial aircraft. Robot-assisted surgery. Only if someone were brave enough to do a follow on Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times? Ah right, ChatGPT.
As a language model, ChatGPT saves time and copywriters from any excuse for procrastination or writer’s block. At best, it beckons an era of peak productivity – however, you define this Americanism.
Now, if it could also resolve our internal struggles? But can ChatGPT become a modern-day Klara from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun?
In his novel, Ishiguro envisions, Klara as a battery-operated human who offers an unreserved ear to Josie's every faulted thought. Klara is a solar-powered lifelong friend and almost challenges all notions of obsolescence. As he writes, “What was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made maneuvers that were very complex and hard to fathom.”
ChatGPT can also assume the role of a modern-day Klara in some capacity. A simple prompt like “I am having a bad day” can initiate a conversation with ChatGPT. It responds like we would ideally want our friend to. A tad too formal perhaps, but instantaneously nonetheless, “I'm sorry to hear that. Would you like to talk about what's been bothering you and see if there's anything I can do to help? Sometimes talking through a problem can make it feel less overwhelming and help you find a solution.”
“What was becoming clear to me was the extent to which humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made maneuvers that were very complex and hard to fathom.” - Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara And The Sun
The conversation flows seamlessly. It establishes trust at the onset with the reassurance that all information is shared in confidence and won’t be used for “clinical trials” or “research”. Depending on the gravity of your answers, it also intercepts with recommendations for seeking professional or medical help. For a language model, ChatGPT goes beyond listlessly presenting symptoms and causes, providing astute suggestions and support.
One of the benefits of ChatGPT is its availability for 24/7 support. Pervasive thoughts can arise at any time, and people may not always have access to a therapist or support system. ChatGPT can provide instant help to those in need, and it is more affordable than traditional therapy. It offers a shoulder to cry on at no cost or a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy.
It can also be an excellent option for people who may feel uncomfortable or stigmatized about seeking therapy. Some people may be hesitant to seek therapy, fearing judgement and it almost acts as an artificial friend in real-time.
But ChatGPT should not replace professional therapy. On the contrary, it can help people identify if they are on the brink and need to see a therapist. It models answers such as:
“While I am here to provide support and information, it's important to have human connections and relationships as well. As a language model, I am not capable of forming emotional bonds or experiencing feelings, and I can only respond based on the information I was trained on. Additionally, seeking help from a mental health professional can provide you with the tools and strategies to manage.”
As appealing as the idea of confiding in AI chatbots may seem, it may not be the healthiest. Mental health services are operating under limited resources, and seeking help from a mental health professional can help you with your struggles. While ChatGPT can offer support and recommendations, it's not a replacement for professional therapy or real life friends.
We haven’t reached a dystopian world so blasé that we can only solely rely on our artificial friends.
If you or someone you know is experiencing distress please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.