Our Smart New World
Artificial Intelligence and monitoring systems are predicted to be running many aspects of our lives in the near future. Controversially, AI is also expected to fix all our emotional and mental problems alongside organising our diets, education and entertainment.
Several AI companies such as Kaidoko, a personal AI psychologist for Under 18’s, and Wysa, a 24/7 mental health support involving Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT), have already embraced this new market and are available online to provide services for children in need.
Another approach currently in development is a voice-analysis AI that can detect anxiety and depression in children with an 80% accuracy, a fast and useful diagnosis in a society where around 20% of children suffer from internalization disorders.
But just how far are we prepared to go to outsource our children’s developmental health to technology? According to AI specialist Dr Michelle Tempest of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and a partner in international healthcare strategy consultancy, Candesic – pretty much all the way!
Dr Tempest expects our children’s futures to be very Smart, from artificial uteruses to Bot-care childrearing in dedicated ‘Upbringing Centres’ within the next 30 years. Parents would be able to choose how much involvement they have with their offspring, without the inconvenience of pregnancy, nappy changing, or dealing with the more unpleasant sides of raising children and adolescents. In effect, she claims, most aspects of parenting will be capable of being outsourced by 2050.
Nurse, Nanny, Teacher and Therapist will be rolled into one digital avatar, with biological parents seeing their children for holidays and weekends. A dream scenario, or a dystopian nightmare?
Today, AI can learn about human development at a phenomenally fast rate and as we are already committed to many of the Smart technologies such as baby monitors, nappy sensors and teaching platforms, it would appear our journey to this rather disturbing future has already begun. The software could easily adjust to a child’s learning capacity and even call for medical assistance when required.
The questions which are being asked, however, include concerns about how empathy and compassion will be developed as children grow. Narcissism could increase as a result, as the value of family relationships is reduced. Indeed, we are already witnessing an element of this in our young people today who are primarily interacting with their world through a screen rather than face to face, more so since the beginning of the pandemic.
We can also see the fine motor skills in young children declining as they become used to swiping a screen rather than using pens and pencils. There is the potential that we could deprive them of critical thought too, as we head towards a fully outsourced digital age.
As alien as this brave new world may seem to an older generation, attitudes are rapidly changing as the younger generation of parents can see the value in having the best of all worlds. More time and freedom with all their childcare needs met in the safety of a digital environment and without the unreliability of human carers. With the birth rate declining, many young people may be encouraged to outsource the birth of a new generation of children in the next 30 years if the main difficulties are largely removed from this very important task.
It appears we are now at the junction on our evolutionary path, where science fiction becomes science fact.