The human machine test – empathy or kindness?

In the fictional Voight-Kampff test from the movie Blade Runner (based on a book by Philip K Dick) a series of questions were asked to detect the replicants from the real humans. The aim was to discover whether the interviewee would give away their lack of human empathy by testing their responses to specific scenarios. In the book ‘What If Our World Is Their Heaven‘, the author, gives some of his last interviews where he talked about his inspirations and methods for his stories. In it he was specifically asked what he thought were the qualities that make a human.

Rather than empathy, Dick said he believed it was kindness and compassion that defined us.

How is this different from empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others whereas kindness involves a choice to act generous and considerate. In this way, empathy could exist without kindness if through understanding the feeling of others a person still chooses to be unkind knowing it would upset them. This appears true when you consider that some psychopaths have been shown they have empathy (they know and perhaps even desire the effect they have on a victim).

To make sure we design for human qualities in machines, we should ensure both empathy and kindness are included.

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