The Risks of Chatbots and AI Controlling Our Minds

December 20, 2019 • Shannon Flynn


When built with traditional coding methods, chatbots feel like glorified menus, capable of tracking an order or referring a customer to a real customer service agent — but not much else. The rise of artificial intelligence (or AI) has changed this. Over the past few years, the AI technology that powers these new chatbots has advanced tremendously — to the point where AI might be influencing how we think and act. There is even the potential for AI controlling our minds.

One of the unique capabilities of AI is in its ability to adapt and respond to complex data — like how people use language to communicate. Newer, AI-powered chatbots, however, behave in ways that almost seem human.

How Chatbots Get Into Our Heads

Traditionally, business chatbots have been pretty rudimentary. Despite the developer’s best efforts, the usual coding methods couldn’t create chatbots that were flexible and responsive to customer requests in the same way as a human salesperson or support agent.

With the rise of natural language processing — tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze language — and as software developers have become more familiar with AI, we’ve started to see chatbots become more and more common on brand pages around the web.

There are a few reasons for this. First, customers like to communicate with live agents via chat when possible. When they can, they’re more likely to convert — or accept an upsell — compared to customers who don’t chat. At the same time, most customers prefer to talk to live agents over chatbots.

AI chatbots are almost always available, and with the right technology — and a few other tricks, like a name and profile picture borrowed from a stock photo or human employee — they can pass for live agents and salespeople.

In some cases, these chatbots can do even better than just pretend to be human. With the right technology, chatbots can collect valuable customer information they can pass on to live salespeople — possibly resulting in a sale.

Chatbots in Sales

Chatbots can use advanced AI-based language processing techniques like intent processing and sentiment analysis to quickly detect a customer’s mood and intent — whether they’re on the fence, ready to buy or about to storm off. Then, the bot can use its analysis to inform its tone and approach — and eventually, send the customer in the direction most likely to result in a sale. It’s not quite AI controlling our minds, but the manipulation is getting close.

Chatbots can redirect customers likely to salespeople. Similarly, they can pass those that need support with a complicated task on to customer service. The ones that seem unlikely to buy may be held up, so that the team can focus on other customers. When these customers are handed over, the bot can quickly clue agents in on each customer’s state of mind, potentially helping them to land a sale or keep a customer satisfied.

How AI Influences Behavior

Chatbots are just one example of AI technology that is intelligently analyzing and responding to our behavior and how we think. Chatbot-adjacent technology — mostly digital assistants like Siri and Cortana — may also has the capability to subtly change our minds.

Increased reliance on AI assistants may impact your long-term memory. Researchers call it the Google Effect — as information becomes easier to retrieve, we become less likely to remember it. Then, as a result, we become more dependent on our assistants to keep us knowledgeable — looking up the same piece of information because it’s harder to commit to memory. Ditto for other information storage and retrieval tech, like GPS navigation software.

In the future, as AI makes our lives more and more convenient, we may find ourselves somewhat held hostage by digital assistants who are constantly collecting information about our lives and habits — information that may already be used for marketing and product development.

The rise of these technologies — and the knock-on effects we’re beginning to see — has experts both in and out of tech raising questions about ethical AI design.

Autonomous cars, for example, will need to be programmed to make decisions about how they will behave when an accident is inevitable. In the future, programmers will either need to make decisions about how these AI will respond — or leave the AI to decide.

The Ways AI Might Control Our Minds

AI technology is advancing at a rapid pace — resulting in technology, like AI-powered chatbots, that can almost pass for human.

These chatbots can use language in a way that helps businesses convince customers to buy more by combining the soft skills of a salesperson with technical language analysis. Other AI developments, like digital assistants, are also subtly affecting how we act and think.

In the future, as AI becomes more and more central to our lives — automating repetitious tasks, providing businesses with data analysis and keeping us informed — we may have to grapple with the ethics of AI and similar technology, and the possibility of AI controlling our minds.