Who needs couples therapy when there’s Auntie Alexa?


Who needs couples therapy when there’s Auntie Alexa?

Can your relationship problems be solved by AI? New research suggests we're not far off

Tymon Smith

You’ve had a long, irritating day full of miscommunications, misunderstandings and missed deadlines. You finally make it home after sitting in two hours of traffic. Your significant other – also burnt out, annoyed and at the end of their tether – is at home trying to wind down and catch a moment of calm. You exchange a kiss, pour a glass of wine and ask that inevitable opening end-of-the-day domestic question: “So how was your day?”
Five hours later and you are not talking to each other because you only asked the question out of obligation and didn’t listen to a single detail and, as usual, just wanted to talk about yourself. You’re both tired of each other’s selfishness, and this isn’t working and maybe you should sleep on the couch. Okay, fine.
As you drag your duvet and pillow over to the lounge and collapse, ready for a night of anxious insomnia, self-loathing and back pain, you remember to ask your home-listening device to turn off the lights. Alexa obliges, but just as you’re about to put your head down, it begins to analyse your five-hour fight, offer suggestions as to what you could have said, as well as solutions to your relationship problems.
A futuristic scene out of the Spike Jonze movie, Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his phone’s operating system, perhaps? No.
According to new research conducted by the Imperial College Business School in London, virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home will soon have the capacity to analyse relationships, provide solutions to arguments and predict to within 75% accuracy the chances of the success of a partnership.
They will be able to do this through an analysis of what they hear during the course of everyday interaction between their owners, and become a couple’s counsellor – interrupting arguments and offering suggestions for resolving them in real time.
In an interview with Independent UK, Aparna Sasidharan, from Imperial Business College, said: “Artificial intelligence [AI] could have a significant impact on communication patterns in relationships, specifically benefiting women in heterosexual partnerships.”
She added research showed that “men tend to prioritise ‘report talk’ – analysing issues and solving problems in a direct and factual way”.
“There are many instances where this is useful in everyday life, but in relationships it can result in not communicating in a way that builds and strengthens relationships – ‘rapport talk’,” Sasidharan explained.
According to her, AI can “pick up missed cues and suggest nudges to bridge the gap in emotional intelligence and communication styles”.
“It can identify optimal ways to discuss common problems and alleviate common misunderstandings based on these different priorities and ways of viewing the world. We could be looking at a different gender dynamics in a decade.”
No word yet on how Alexa is supposed to deal with that unique aspect of relationships identified by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction as “the sharing of a comfortable silence”, but until Auntie Alexa becomes a reality, if you’re sleeping on the couch and your home-listening device starts offering you couples therapy, you’re dreaming.

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