In a world of AI assistants, how much will humans still help each other?

Why do we help each other?

Humans usually like to help each other. It makes us feel good to help someone else and we’d like to think others would offer the same to us. But why do we choose to help someone else and what does it give us?

There are many reasons that encourage a person to come to our aid. The identity of the person asking can often be the single biggest factor – knowing the person, their status, and relation to you. The timing of the request – maybe they caught you at a bad time or the request has an urgency, persuading you to get involved. Calling out someone specifically, sympathizing with the cause (belonging to a ‘group’ is a significant influencer), weighing up the amount of effort and judging the pay back whether an exchange of goods or a long term promise – all these things give us reasons to help. The effect is positive for both sides on most occasions. Giving help and being helped makes us happy.

With the rise of smart assistants, will some of these reasons and opportunities to help go?

Assistants help you because you asked for it, you paid for it. The effort is negligible as it’s a machine after all. It doesn’t care about the cause or if you might give something back – it’s just a transaction. Timing doesn’t matter as it will always be there at your fingertips. If we’re helping each other less because of these reasons, what impact will that have on us?

Help promotes more help because we feel in the mood to pay it forward. It’s unlikely we’ll find a good reason to give back to an assistant (save for more money) so will we start getting more selfish as we become accustomed to a one way exchange? Assistant help as opposed to that from another human, may be much less satisfying in the long run.

There may be another side effect related to the kind of help you get from assistants vs real people. Real people’s advice are usually based on actual experiences whereas assistants only know so much and not likely first hand. As we become more reliant on assistants we may think we’re getting the best help because it’s immediate and ‘intelligent’ but if everyone gets the same assistant how good can it be? There may be no good replacement for having been there and done it, which a fellow human is usually keen to share.

As we design assistants, should we look more carefully at the effect on the human helping ecosystem?

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