My idea for an empathy-inducing machine is inspired by a book of short stories by Charles Yu called “Sorry Please Thank You.” The first story in the book, Standard Loneliness Package, talks about wealthy people in the future outsourcing their negative feelings to low-wage employees in a different country. Any heartbreak, guilt, even an uneasy dentist trip, is mentally experienced by someone else, for a fee of course. It would be fascinating and probably not impossible to use this system to force, or at least mimic, feelings of empathy. I view some pharmaceuticals as hyper-specific mind control devices, in the way that they can cause your brain to secrete chemicals against its will. It’d be amazing if we could create a concoction that allowed us to empathize with another person or group of people.
When you read a news story, a machine can generate a pill for you to take so you fully understand the story before reading it. Or maybe a series of pictures & colors could be flashed in front of your eyes while you’re reading, to make sure you’re getting the full emotional experience of the information. Or perhaps, in the future, biological warfare will be replaced by empathy warfare: instead of trying to harm or kill each other, we go to extremes to be understood. When I was a kid, I remember hearing about people in NYC jumping on the subway to inject fellow passengers with HIV, then quickly jumping off and escaping. The internet tells me this is an urban legend, but it sounds a lot like the “empathy terrorism” I’m imagining in my head. I wonder if this activity of forced empathy would be more or less dangerous than the violent outbursts that happen due to lack of understanding in today’s world.