NEXT: Story 1 – The Future of AI and the Emergence of the Empathy Economy

By Dr. Mark Kimura, Senior Director of Artificial Intelligence at DeNA/Pococha Irvine, CA; and Ian Kitajima, President of PICHTR, Honolulu, HI.
Produced: June 10, 2024


Mark and Ian discussed their history of working together on applied AI projects, emphasizing the rapid advancements in AI technology and its implications for the future. They explored the concept of an “empathy economy,” where human connection and empathy become central as AI handles productivity tasks. They also touched on the potential societal impacts of AI, including the importance of authenticity and creativity in a future where AI is ubiquitous. They used AI to transcribe a one hour discussion, and to create the following summaries with time stamps.


The Evolution of AI

Mark and Ian began by reminiscing about their early days at Oceanit, where they spearheaded an applied AI team. They recalled the initial excitement around deep learning and neural networks, which were just beginning to show promise in image processing and other applications. They highlighted their early projects, such as the Aloha AI initiative, which allowed participants to build AI models for image classification, like detecting Aloha shirts. This hands-on approach not only made AI accessible but also showcased its potential in real-world applications.

The Rapid Advancement of AI

The conversation then shifted to the astonishing pace at which AI has progressed. Mark noted that while they anticipated significant advancements, the reality has far exceeded their expectations. The introduction of language models like GPT and the subsequent public release of ChatGPT have revolutionized the field, making AI tools more accessible and powerful than ever before. This rapid development has led to a surge in AI applications across various industries, from healthcare to education.

The Future: Three Stages of AI Integration

Mark outlined a compelling vision for the future of AI, divided into three stages:

  1. Productivity-Driven Economy: In the initial stage, AI will continue to enhance productivity across existing industries. Tools like AI-driven diagnostics in healthcare and AI-powered customer service will streamline operations and improve efficiency.
  2. Empathy-Enhanced Economy: The second stage will see a shift towards human connections and empathy within these industries. For example, healthcare professionals will focus more on bedside manners and patient communication, while educators will become empathetic facilitators rather than mere knowledge providers. This stage emphasizes the importance of soft skills and human interaction.
  3. Fully Realized Empathy Economy: In the final stage, empathy and human connection will become the primary focus. New industries will emerge, centered around authentic human interactions. Services like professional listeners or authenticators, who ensure that interactions are genuinely human, will become valuable. This stage envisions a society where empathy is the new currency.
The Role of Robotics and AI in Society

Ian brought up the potential impact of robotics, particularly humanoid robots, on the future economy. He noted that while robots might initially be used for tasks in warehouses or fast food restaurants, their integration into everyday life could significantly boost productivity. However, this raises questions about the social implications and the need to ensure that marginalized communities are not left behind.

The Importance of Empathy and Human Qualities

The discussion also touched on the importance of human qualities like authenticity, vulnerability, and sincerity in the age of AI. Mark and Ian emphasized that while AI can perform many tasks with greater efficiency, it lacks the ability to care or be sincere. These uniquely human traits will become increasingly valuable as AI continues to evolve.


Mark and Ian’s conversation highlighted the transformative potential of AI and the importance of maintaining a focus on empathy and human connection. As we move towards a future where AI is deeply integrated into our lives, the challenge will be to ensure that these technologies enhance rather than diminish our humanity. The concept of the empathy economy offers a hopeful vision where technology and human connection coexist, creating a more compassionate and connected world.

Read a related article on AI by Dr. Kimura here

Summary with Time Stamps.

Introduction and Background [00:35]

  • Connection and Background: Ian and Mark discussed their connection, how they met, and their work history, particularly their collaboration at Oceanit on applied AI projects.
  • Early AI Work: They reminisced about their early work on AI, including the development of Aloha AI and the first AI model to detect Aloha shirts.

AI Evolution and Impact

  • Deep Learning and AI Progress: Mark explained the evolution of AI, particularly deep learning, and its applications in image processing and language models. [01:12]
  • AI in Education and Community Projects: They discussed their projects involving AI with students, such as people counters and mask detection during COVID-19. [03:00]
  • Rapid AI Advancements: The conversation highlighted the unexpected speed of AI advancements, particularly with the introduction of GPT models. [5:05]

Future of AI and Empathy Economy

  • Stages of AI Development: Mark outlined three stages of AI’s future: productivity increase, focus on human connections and empathy, and a fully realized empathy economy. [10:09]
  • Robotics and AI Integration: They speculated on the future integration of AI with robotics, particularly in industries like fast food and warehousing. [16:12]
  • Economic and Social Implications: The discussion touched on the economic implications of AI, including the potential need for universal basic income and the risk of a digital divide. [22:30]

Human Qualities and AI [28:00]

  • Human Qualities in the Age of AI: They explored the importance of human qualities like empathy, authenticity, and sincerity in an AI-driven world.
  • Learning to Care: Both shared personal stories about how they learned to care for others, emphasizing the importance of empathy and vulnerability.

Creativity and Imperfection [42:45]

  • Role of Creativity: They discussed how AI might change the nature of creativity, suggesting that future creativity might focus more on personal expression and imperfection.
  • Design Thinking: The potential increased importance of design thinking in fostering a culture of experimentation and imperfection was highlighted.

Cultural and Educational Considerations [51:00]

  • Cultural Integration: The idea of integrating cultural values, such as those from Hawaiian traditions, into AI development was considered.
  • Education and Future Skills: They discussed the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing technological landscape and the importance of skills like creativity and imagination.

Closing Remarks

  • Next Steps: They concluded with thoughts on future discussions, particularly involving educational experts and cultural integration into AI.