This Sci-Fi Video Game Predicted Our Current AI Landscape | Digital Trends

Like many others, I’m currently fascinated and a little terrified by the rapid advances in AI. While the technology seems like it could be used forever, several applications leave me concerned. Websites have replaced human writers with error-prone robots, Hollywood refuses to protect its creative talent from technology and AI-generated games like Summerhave raised alarm bells about bot plagiarism. Although what worries me the most in recent months is the existence of AI therapy.

There are currently a handful of services available that automate therapy in some way. Woebot is an automated conversational agent that is positioned as a personal mental health tool. Users can check in every day to have short conversations with a chatbot that will send wellness tips and videos. Wysa, on the other hand, matches users with both a human mental health professional and an AI coach who helps them process their emotions. Considering how much traditional therapy relies on connecting with a real person, the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčautomating it seems like a recipe for disaster.

There is a reason why all this particularly intrigues me. This is because of a little visual novel called Elise. Released in 2019, the independent gem quietly predicted the troubling shift of AI into the mental health space. It’s an excellent cautionary tale about the intricacies of automating human connection, one that tech entrepreneurs could learn a lot from.

Welcome Elise

Set in Seattle, Elise follows a character named Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey who starts working at a new tech venture created by a fictional Apple-like megacorporation called Skandha. The company has created a virtual counseling app, called Eliza, that offers users AI-guided therapy sessions at a relatively affordable price.

Eliza isn’t just a faceless chatbot, though. To maintain the human element of face-to-face therapy, the app uses human proxies who sit down with clients in person and read the responses generated by the bot in real time. Skandha claims that she has her methodology down to a science, so proxies are forbidden to deviate from the script in any way. They are there simply to add a tangible face to the advice that the machine spits out.

Zachtronics

The game resists the urge to present that idea as an exaggerated dystopian concept. Instead, he opts for a tone based on realism, not unlike that of Spike Jonzes His. This allows him to ask some serious and nuanced questions about automating human interactions that were ahead of their time. The five-hour story asks whether such an AI application is a net benefit, making something as expensive as therapy more accessible, or simply an exploitative business decision by a big tech that trades human interaction for easy profits.

Players explore these questions through Elises visual novel systems. Interaction is minimal here, with players simply choosing dialogue options for Evelyn. This has a major impact on her sessions, though. Throughout the story, Evelyn meets a handful of recurring customers who signed up for the service. Some are simply there to monologue about the low-stakes drama in their lives, but others come to service with more serious issues. No matter how serious her individual situation, Eliza spits out the same flat script for Evelyn to read, asking a few questions over and over during sessions, and prescribing breathing exercises and medications.

The more Evelyn gets involved in her clients’ lives, the more she begins to see the limits of technology. Some of Eliza’s advice isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem, and more troubled clients start asking for real help from a real human being. Players are given the option to go off script and let Evelyn take matters into her own hands, a move that has serious implications for both her job and the well-being of her clients.

It’s not always the right answer. While some of his advice gives clients the help they need, others find themselves in an even greater spiral. Her words can be twisted in ways she didn’t expect, something Eliza’s secure algorithm is built to protect against. Is it safer to stick to the sanitized script or at least try to make a real connection? And does technology like this ultimately hurt more than it helps, or vice versa?

Eliza does not answer these questions, leaving the players to chew. It’s a considered interrogation of modern technology that has only become more urgent given the emergence of services like Wysa, which are perilously close to the game’s fictional technology. Whether you’re a supporter of AI tools like ChatGPT or firmly against them, Eliza will provide a thoughtful cautionary tale about the limitations of both machines and humans.

Elise is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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