KT is Building an ‘Empathetic AI’

Empathetic AI: Artificial intelligence with human emotion is an age-old theme in science fiction. From the near-classic novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)’ to Steven Spielberg’s film ‘AI (2001)’, it was just a thought-provoking topic that seemed to have no possibility of realization any time soon. But in 2022, it looks like times are changing.

“AI That can Sympathize.”

Korea’s telecommunication giant KT has recently announced the ‘KT AI 2.0’ plan, with which it will build a super-large AI model that can ‘sympathize’ with people. KT plans to reveal this AI model by the end of this year. Bae Soon-min, head of AI2XL(A. to Everything) Lab at KT, noted that the upcoming AI model would understand the context of the situation and distinguish ’emotionally appropriate’ behavior accordingly.

This is not that different from what AI is already known to do; it recognizes contexts and situations and generates output through algorithms. But there would be a fundamental difference. Bae indicated the KT AI 2.0 would be able to “choose to be kind than to be right.”

By no means does she mean KT will somehow try to increase feedback inaccuracy with the new AI model. But rather than it would employ a colossal dataset to make the AI learn how to execute tasks more humanely.

empathetic AI

If you are familiar with the U.S. sitcom, Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper from an earlier season of ‘The Big bang theory’ can be a fitting example. Both fictional characters have a logical mind and are capable of deductive reasoning. However, the behavior patterns of Leonard and Sheldon in daily lives are vastly different. Leonard would say light words of consolation when a friend is going through a problem, while Sheldon would respond with a blatant and factual assessment of the situation. Leonard reads other people’s social cues and uses them as his data before saying things when Sheldon only operates with logic.

Can it be a Game-changer in Service Sector?

KT expects the ’empathetic AI’ would be used in many industries, especially customer service and elderly care. “Many existing AI services have reached a certain level of technical efficiency,” Bae said, “Now we AI that enrich our lives not only through information and convenience but also through comfort and empathy.”

The new AI model can be used in personalized AI-based care services. It can carry on conversation more naturally, providing consolation and relieving the stresses of the service user. For instance, if a student asks AI what the next schedule is, AI can assess the user’s anxiety level and respond with an additional message that suggests taking a breath and believing in themselves. To make the AI reach such a level, KT is working on constructing a dataset that reflects humanity with KAIST(Korea Advanced Institute of Science). They are conducting research combining humanities, psychology, and cognitive science.

Empathetic AI can be used at contact centers. When people call contact centers, some are angry or frustrated, meaning they can also use emotional care. Using empathetic AI for them can lead to greater customer satisfaction while saving employees from a handsome amount of taxing emotional labor. KT launched the AI contact center business last year, involving more than 200 researchers. The company aims to earn more than 180 billion won(about 140 million dollars) from the AICC sector this year.

KT also plans to expand B2B service with KT AI 2.0. The company is looking into ways to develop ‘multi-turn professional counseling,’ a benefit in that AI can continuously converse on highly complex, complicated topics such as law or medical information.

I'm a journalist based in South Korea. I write about technology with a focus on artificial intelligence, new media and telecommunication businesses. I am very curious about how those three fields could shape our world to be better (or worse, and I'm sure we'll figure out how to tackle the problems). I love getting new information on most random things and making connections out of them. Feel free to contact me to share your stories on work, projects or business.