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Esther Perel Talks “Artificial Intimacy” In Modern Life, Longing for True Connection in The AI Era

Published April 2, 2024 2:06 PM
Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Published April 2, 2024 2:06 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) therapy bots and virtual companions presents a new frontier in human connection.
  • Esther Perel acknowledges some clients find AI therapists beneficial, even reporting breakthroughs.
  • Perel identifies a paradox where people have many virtual connections but lack real support.

With her unmistakable voice, profound insights into the intricacies of human relationships, and an unparalleled ability to immerse followers in the moment, world-renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel  starts her inaugural American tour in April.

An amalgamation of cathartic group therapy, immersive workshop experience , and collaborative focus group, this series of events aims to help people navigate life’s challenges and discover pathways to resilience. The focus of acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, podcaster , and foremost authority on human connection is: “artificial intimacy.”

What’s Artificial Intimacy?

Let’s delve into what Perel calls  the emergence of “artificial intimacy,” the latest frontier in artificial intelligence (AI) advancement. Perel shared on a recent podcast  that what intrigues her most is its implications for our human experience. It all began with a message she received from someone who expressed their frustration at being unable to schedule a session with her following a breakup. Determined to seek guidance, he created an AI version of Perel called AI Esther. This was available without any scheduling conflicts or personal obligations.

As he recounted his experience conversing with the AI version of the famous psychologist, the client described it as illuminating, offering him a sense of profound peace.

“This revelation left me astounded. In the past, I might have suggested that one could merely imagine someone’s presence to find solace. However, now, with advancements in AI, individuals can take it a step further by creating a virtual counterpart grounded in their knowledge and expertise,” she said in a podcast episode .

And it’s not a completely bad idea. “This, to me, epitomizes the essence of artificial intimacy. But it raises the question: what was his actual experience with me?”

Looking For True Connection During AI Era

Perel says many clients expressed satisfaction with therapy bots, finding them beneficial in their mental health journey. They reported experiencing therapeutic breakthroughs and meaningful interactions. However, upon closer examination of qualitative data, these experiences often fall short.

“Clients may inadvertently lower their expectations to align with the capabilities of technology, resulting in less effective care,” she said.

Navigating the terrain of virtual connections requires acknowledging and embracing the friction and failures inherent in human interaction. Cultivating awareness of others’ needs and the impact of our behavior is a crucial aspect of personal growth. Yet, in an era dominated by virtual connections, fostering such awareness becomes increasingly challenging, leading to heightened anxiety and diminished intimacy.

“The complexity of managing numerous relationships in the digital age is undeniable,” Esther Perel highlighted. She also flagged the paradox of modern loneliness, characterized by hyperconnectivity juxtaposed with a lack of meaningful support.

“While one may boast a multitude of virtual connections, securing assistance with mundane tasks like picking up a package during an absence can prove to be surprisingly elusive.”

Companies Should Encourage In-Person Connection

Rather than solely focusing on designing technology for virtualization and efficiency, according to Perel, we should also prioritize its potential to cultivate genuine relationships.

Technology can serve as a means to facilitate connections, but we should also explore opportunities to bring these connections into the realm of physical interaction. We should also consider leveraging technology to initiate connections and organizing group gatherings to foster in-person meetings and deeper relationships.

Whether you’re navigating a conference, relocating to a new city, or embarking on a fresh career opportunity, establishing connections with others on a personal level is paramount. These connections serve as invaluable support systems. They aid in our adjustment to unfamiliar surroundings and play a pivotal role in safeguarding our mental well-being.

“We did the same thing with junk food, right? We first had a promise of repeatable, always available shelf stable food, and it was irresistible. And only now are we coming to terms with the fact that we traded away nutrition, right? In the same way that we’re going to trade away real human connection and that the consequences were not very good for our physical health. Well, it won’t be any different when we talk about our relational or our mental health,” Perel added.

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