Can Artificial Intelligence induce empathy?

Deep Empathy
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AI-Induced Empathy

Can we use AI to increase empathy for victims of far-away disasters by making our homes appear similar to the homes of victims?

Deep Empathy gets you closer to the realities of those that suffer the most, by helping you imagine what neighbourhoods around the world would look like if hit by a disaster.

Around the world, 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced within their own countries. In Syria alone, the brutal six-year old war has affected more than 13.5 million people and 80% of the country's children—8.4 million young lives shattered by violence and fear. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and their homes destroyed.

Can you conceptualize these numbers? People generate a response that statistics can't. And technologists—through tools like AI—have opportunities to help people see things differently.

Deep Empathy utilizes deep learning to learn the characteristics of Syrian neighborhoods affected by conflict, and then simulates how cities around the world would look in the midst of a similar conflict. Can this approach -- familiar in a range of artistic applications -- help us to see recognizable elements of our lives through the lens of those experiencing vastly different circumstances, theoretically a world away? And by helping an AI learn empathy, can this AI teach us to care?

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Explore the globe

Can empathy be facilitated through images that combine the familiarity of the cities we live in with traces of the realities of those that live far away?
Can AI help make that translation at scale?
Can you imagine similar disasters happening worldwide?

Click on the globe to explore

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Help our AI to learn empathy

Which image makes you feel more empathic towards victims of Syria crisis?
Help our AI to learn empathy: select which images are more likely to inspire empathy and help us train our algorithm to get better.


Click here to Take the Survey
(Survey images might contain sensitive and graphic content.)

Timeline of Empathy and AI

Can we increase empathy for victims of
far-away disasters using AI to create images that simulate disasters closer to home?



  • Turing Test

    Alan Turing develops a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

  • Voight Kampff Test

    Science fiction writer Philip K Dick imagines the ‘voight-kampff’ test in his novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ The test questions an AI’s ability to feel empathy.

  • Empathy

    “Considerable research shows that we are more likely to help someone in need when we ‘feel for’ that person.” C. Daniel Batson, social psychologist.

  • Affective Computing

    Rosalind Picard, computer scientist from the MIT Media Lab coins the term ‘Affective Computing’. It refers to computing that relates to, arises from or influences emotions.

  • Identifiable Victim Effect

    Decision Scientist Karen Jenni and Economist George Lowenstein provide evidence that humans' ability to scale empathy is constrained by our greater willingness to respond to individual victims of whom we know specific details.

  • Psychic Numbing

    Psychologist Paul Slovic shows that people become "numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals" of large-scale disasters and atrocities. Statistics surrounding such events "fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action."

  • Deep Learning

    Deep learning becomes feasible, which leads to machine learning becoming integral to many widely used software services and applications.

  • Alan Kurdi

    A picture of Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the beach published. Research finds "...an iconic photo of a single child had more impact than statistical reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths."

  • Deep Empathy

    Can we increase empathy for victims of far-away disasters using Google’s machine-learning algorithm to create images that simulate disasters closer to home?

  • Help us
    (216) 961-4761 empathy!

MEET THE TEAM


Contact: 201-790-2878

We believe that AI can be a tool for enabling empathy at scale. Deep Empathy is a collaboration led by Scalable Cooperation at (509) 313-9972, and influenced by UNICEF Innovation, to pursue a scalable way to increase empathy.

Pinar Yanardag

Post-doc at Scalable Cooperation, MIT Media Lab

Iyad Rahwan

Associate Professor at Scalable Cooperation, MIT Media Lab

Manuel Garcia Herranz

Chief Scientist at Ventures, UNICEF Office of Innovation

Christopher Fabian

Lead of Ventures, UNICEF Office of Innovation

Zoe Rahwan

Research Associate at London School of Economics

Nick Obradovich

Research Scientist at Scalable Cooperation, MIT Media Lab

Abhimanyu Dubey

Graduate Student at Scalable Cooperation, MIT Media Lab

Manuel Cebrian

Research Scientist at Scalable Cooperation, MIT Media Lab

Special thanks to: Barbara Fasolo from London School of Economics, and Alissa Collins from UNICEF.