According to Ford Motor Company, as voice-recognition technology continues to arrive in more and more passenger vehicles, one possible eventuality is that the car could become a sort of “virtual personal assistant” – and one that even possesses a simulated sense of empathy.
Ford says that an advanced in-car operating system could, in theory, use “sophisticated microphones and in-car cameras” to detect the occupant’s mood based on vocal modulations and facial expressions. That could prompt the car to, say, try to cheer the occupant up when he or she is sad, play their favorite song in times of stress, or offer advice when it’s needed – in addition to all the other functions a personal assistant might ordinarily serve, like reminding one about upcoming dates and scheduled items.
In a strange twist, Ford, in a press release about the car’s empathetic future, actually likened it to the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her, with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. In the film, Phoenix’s character Theodore develops a romantic relationship with an artifical intelligence named Samantha (voiced by Johansson), which proves nonviable for all the obvious reasons: he’s flesh and blood; she’s a piece of software, etc. The desperate, isolated future presented in that film doesn’t strike us as the sort of thing we actually ought to be working toward.
Dominic Watt – a hilariously-unconcerned Senior Lecturer from the University of York’s Department of Language and Linguistic Science – summarized the possibility of an empathetic car operating system thusly: “Lots of people already love their cars, but with new in-car systems that learn and adapt, we can expect some seriously strong relationships to form. The car will soon be our assistant, travel companion and sympathetic ear, and you’ll be able to discuss everything and ask anything, to the point many of us might forget we’re even talking to a machine.”