AI: Listening And Understanding Are Key

Empathy is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but what do people mean when they say something like “you need to be more empathetic”?

In this episode, host Hans van Dam gets philosophical with author and autonomous systems architect, Phil Harvey.

As is discussed in his new book—Data: A Guide to Humans—Phil talks about how empathy has been a buzzword in recent years, but not a well-understood one. 

To understand—and benefit—from empathy (especially as it concerns AI technology), Phil talks about the difference between biological empathy and cognitive empathy. He also explores what we can do to improve our ability to be empathetic, including venturing outside our comfort zones into the world of art and music to develop our ability to listen, and understand and interact with the world around us. 

Ultimately, if we can build machines that are better at listening to and understanding the people trying to communicate with them (i.e., being empathetic), the more authentic and productive our relationships with the technology will be.

It’s a deep discussion, ranging from data and systems, to biscuits and cakes, that will help you appreciate empathy as a skill that can—and should be—developed in order for us to succeed in our chosen field, but also in life. 

Episode links:

Show links:


  • 01:54 Phil’s background – an Arts degree in AI
  • 03:08 Empathy, a word that gets thrown around a lot.
  • 07:16 Biological versus cognitive empathy.
  • 10:24 What is data?
  • 16:30 Systems optimization and too much data.
  • 21:17 Positive interdependence versus transactional isolationism.
  • 22:34 Conversational AI.
  • 27:22 Potential abuse of empathetic AI.
  • 29:39 Bringing it all together.
  • 32:22 Using art to improve our cognitive empathy skills.