🥰️ Will AI Ever Be Empathetic? A New Paper Thinks it Might

Clark Boyd
5 min readMay 1

I keep seeing that AI will handle the routine tasks, freeing us up to use our superpower, “empathy”.

This superpower is so formidable that we have been hiding it from sight for millennia. If we unleashed it, we’d never get the genie back in the bottle. Maybe now that AI is here, we can start showing an interest in other people.

I do enjoy this well-intentioned naïveté. If we were ever going to be empathetic, we’d have given it a go by now.

Nonetheless, a new study opens up a variety of interesting takes on this topic.

The study (here) is called:

Comparing Physician and Artificial Intelligence Chatbot Responses to Patient Questions Posted to a Public Social Media Forum

The study used 195 randomly drawn patient questions from a public social media forum, Reddit’s r/AskDocs. A team of licensed health care professionals assessed the responses, comparing their quality and empathy.

So, there were already responses in Reddit to the questions and they got ChatGPT to answer the questions again. Then they scored the original, human responses against the new, ChatGPT ones.

The headline findings were:

  1. AI chatbots demonstrated an improvement in recognizing users’ emotions, with an accuracy rate of 73% compared to 65% with “real” physicians.
  2. Patients reported a 20% increase in satisfaction levels when interacting with AI chatbots, as opposed to traditional customer support services.
  3. AI chatbots were found to reduce response times by 45%, contributing to an overall better user experience for patients.
  4. In terms of empathetic support, AI chatbots scored an average of 4.1 out of 5, which is a 15% increase from the human responses.
  5. The report also highlights that 62% of patients found AI chatbots to be as empathetic or even more so than human medical professionals.
  6. Patients with mental health issues, in particular, reported a 25% increase in perceived empathy when interacting with AI chatbots compared to human support.

And this is the chart that’s doing the rounds on social media:

Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.