Artificial Intelligence Solutions for Boredom

By John Paul Mueller, Luca Massaron

Polls often show what people think they want, rather than what they do want, but they’re still useful. When polled to see what kind of life recent college graduates wanted, not one of them said boredom. In fact, you could possibly poll just about any group and not come up with a single boring response. Most humans (saying all would likely result in an avalanche of email with examples) don’t want to be bored. In some cases, AI can work with humans to make life more interesting — for the human, at least.

Making tasks more interesting

Any occupation, be it personal or for an organization, has certain characteristics that attract people and makes them want to participate in it. Obviously, some occupations, such as taking care of your own children, pay nothing, but the satisfaction of doing so can be incredibly high. Likewise, working as a bookkeeper may pay quite well but not offer much in the way of job satisfaction. Various polls and articles talk about the balance of money and satisfaction, but reading them often proves confusing because the basis for making a determination is ambiguous. However, most of these sources agree that after a human makes a certain amount of money, satisfaction becomes the key to maintaining interest in the occupation (no matter what that occupation might be). Of course, figuring out what comprises job satisfaction is nearly impossible, but interest remains high on the list. An interesting occupation will always have higher satisfaction potential.

The problem is not one of necessarily changing jobs, then, but of making the job more interesting as a means to avoid boredom. An AI can effectively help this process by removing repetition from tasks. However, examples such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home do provide other alternatives. The feeling of loneliness that can pervade the home, workplace, car, and other locations is a strong creator of boredom. When humans begin to feel alone, depression sets in and boredom is often just a step away. Creating applications that use the Alexa interface or Actions on Google API to simulate human interaction of the appropriate sort can improve the workplace experience. More important, developing smart interfaces of this sort can help humans perform a wealth of mundane tasks quickly, such as researching information and interacting smart devices, not just light switches.

Helping humans work more efficiently

Most humans, at least the forward-thinking ones, have some ideas of how they’d like an AI to make their lives better by eliminating tasks that they don’t want to do. A recent poll shows some of the more interesting ways that AI can do this. Many of them are mundane, but notice the ones like detecting when a spouse is unhappy and sending flowers. It probably won’t work, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

The point is that humans will likely provide the most interesting ideas on how to create an AI that specifically addresses that person’s needs. In most cases, serious ideas will work well for other users, too. For example, automating trouble tickets is something that could work in a number of different industries. If someone were to come up with a generic interface, with a programmable back end to generate the required custom trouble tickets, the AI could save users a lot of time and ensure future efficiencies by ensuring that trouble tickets consistently record the required information.

How AI reduces boredom

Boredom comes in many packages, and humans view these packages in different ways. There is the boredom that comes from not having required resources, knowledge, or other needs met. Another kind of boredom comes from not knowing what to do next. An AI can help with the first kind of boredom; it can’t help with the second. This section considers the first kind of boredom.

Access to resources of all sorts helps reduce boredom by allowing humans to create without the mundane necessity of acquiring needed materials. Here are some ways in which an AI can make access to resources easier:

  • Searching for needed items online
  • Ordering needed items automatically
  • Performing sensor and other data-acquisition monitoring
  • Managing data
  • Accomplishing mundane or repetitive tasks

How AI can’t reduce boredom

An AI is not creative or intuitive. So, asking an AI to think of something for you to do is unlikely to produce satisfying results. Someone could program the AI to track the top ten things you like to do and then select one of them at random, but the result still won’t be satisfying because the AI can’t take aspects like your current state of mind into account. In fact, even with the best facial expression, an AI will lack the capability to interact with you in a manner that will produce any sort of satisfying result.

An AI also can’t motivate you. Think about what happens when a friend comes by to help motivate you (or you motivate the friend). The friend actually relies on a combination of intrapersonal knowledge (empathizing by considering how she’d feel in your situation) and interpersonal knowledge (projecting creative ideas on how to obtain a positive emotional response from you). An AI won’t have any of the first kind of knowledge and only extremely limited amounts of the second kind of knowledge. Consequently, an AI can’t reduce your boredom through motivational techniques.

Boredom may not always be a bad thing, anyway. A number of recent studies have shown that boredom actually helps promote creative thought, which is the direction that humans need to go. After viewing myriad articles on how AI is going to take jobs away, it’s important to consider that the jobs that AI is taking are, in themselves, often boring and leave humans no time to create. Even today, humans could find productive, creative, jobs to do if they really thought about it. The article “7 Surprising Facts About Creativity, According To Science” actually discusses the role of boring tasks like daydreaming in enhancing creativity. In the future, if humans really want to reach for the stars and do other amazing things, creativity will be essential, so the fact that AI can’t reduce your boredom is actually a good thing.