Michael Huang has been talking to his younger self a lot lately, thanks to real-time written conversations with an AI chatbot that he trained on entries from his childhood journals.
Based in Brooklyn Technologist and multimedia artist He created a chatbot to engage in real-time written conversations with his “inner child.” Inner-child work is a therapeutic approach to understanding and healing past trauma. It involves reaching a time when we were younger and more vulnerable, and, in essence, mentally and emotionally “removing” ourselves from the perspective of our older, wiser self.
Huang’s exercise has proven to be illuminating and healing. Through a chatbot that the artist calls “Young Michael,” Huang, 26, was able to deliver the loving, comforting words of her past self that young Michael always wanted to hear. This includes a promise that Huang’s childhood hardships have shaped her into the person she is today, and that she won’t rewrite the past even if she could.
“I felt like I was reaching into the past and giving her a big hug and it felt like it was wafting back into the present,” Huang said.
As a child, Huang was a driven and ambitious people pleaser, and in an exchange with the chatbot, Present Michael shared with young Michael that his fear of failure had sustained him for years.
“I’m honestly proud of you for all you’ve accomplished,” the chatbot replies. “It hasn’t been easy and I know you’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get where you are. I think you’re doing an amazing job and I hope you continue to pursue your dreams and make a difference. The world.”
“I definitely teared up while reading that part,” Huang said via Zoom from Japan, where he currently works. Agia TaoA project to renovate an empty rural house into a creative hub.
Huang faithfully kept a daily journal from ages 7 to 19, writing about everything from his adventures in online gaming to homework, fears, goals, and teenage crushes.
For his AI chatbot, Huang took sample text from diary entries that he felt best represented his younger self’s personality and beliefs. He then fed the text into GPT-3, a computer program from OpenAI that was trained to generate realistic-sounding text. Also developed by OpenAI Give it to herA tool for turning text-to-audio visuals into visual art, and more recently, ChatGPTA cutting-edge experimental chatbot that creates both excitement and fear.
“I got answers that worked out exactly how I think I would have responded at the time,” said Huang, whose past projects include an immersive audio-visual LED installation inspired by the structure of neurons and a “thinking cube.” Changes color based on brain waves.
Huang explored child-child work before writing letters to her inner child at the suggestion of a therapist. She saw it as a way to practice artificial intelligence more deeply.
“I didn’t really invent anything new in AI technology,” Huang said. “I was taking something that was already there and remixing it. It allowed me to connect with her in deeper and more tangible ways than I normally would, using real data from my past self.”
It also allows for a reconnection with the innocence and joy of childhood, which can fade as we grow older and are trained to value rational thinking over intuition.
As children, “we’re constantly in awe of the world, constantly overwhelmed with magic and wonder and new things and new possibilities,” Huang said. “I think it’s important to have a piece of this inner child.”
His experiment resonated with others. After tweeting about his chatbot, people asked how they could replicate the experience. In a Twitter thread, she He shared detailed instructions.
“One of my life goals is to unlock the inner artist and scientist within everyone, as I continue to feel these two roles within me,” Huang said. Young Michael sees the chatbot as an example of technology’s role as a mental health tool.
Huang’s chatbot isn’t the first to dive into the treatment process. For example, WobotThe friendly 24/7 chatbot, developed by a Stanford University psychologist, relies on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy — short-term, goal-oriented therapy that aims to change thoughts that negatively affect how we feel — and anxiety.
Huang is a big believer in the value of living, breathing therapists, but sees ever-advancing AI as a “great companion.”
“There are so many possibilities,” he said, “how this improves our own mental health and allows us to walk toward a collective world of human flourishing.”