Over the past month or two, several friends of mine have experienced serious health issues. In a recent conversation with one of them, I debated using the familiar phrase “how are you?” given that it might not express how concerned I was. I decided “how are you?” was the most direct and sincere way I could open the conversation. At the same time, I asked the question with an inflection that I thought expressed my genuine concern.
A day after my conversation with my friend, I reflected that empathetic and sympathetic conversations about health and other emotional matters would be a difficult area for artificial intelligence to navigate. “How are you?” was a sentence so simple yet so nuanced in our conversations, I doubted the capability of AI tools to understand.
I was wrong. I entered a prompt into ChatGPT4 and received the response in the paragraphs below. The Language Learning Model clearly understands language even though my prompt was in text with no inflection. There’s no machine in the world that can replace a friend-to-friend conversation. However, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before first and second tier call center personnel will be replaced by AI tools. Are there other applications?
- Genuine concern: If the speaker uses a gentle, empathetic tone with a slightly raised pitch at the end of the question, it indicates genuine concern for the listener’s well-being. This inflection suggests the speaker genuinely wants to know how the listener is feeling and is open to having a deeper conversation.
- Polite formality: When the speaker’s tone is neutral and the pitch remains relatively constant, it suggests a polite but somewhat superficial inquiry. This inflection is commonly used in more formal settings or when speaking with acquaintances, and it often implies the expected response is a simple “good” or “fine.”
- Casual greeting: In this case, the speaker uses a relaxed, friendly tone, often with a slightly lowered pitch. The phrase becomes a casual greeting, similar to saying “hello” or “hi,” without expecting a detailed answer about the listener’s well-being.
- Excitement or surprise: If the speaker raises their pitch and volume dramatically, the question can convey excitement or surprise. This inflection might be used when the speaker hasn’t seen the listener in a long time or is eager to catch up.
- Sarcasm or disbelief: A sarcastic or disbelieving inflection involves an exaggerated change in pitch, often starting high and dropping dramatically. This implies the speaker doesn’t actually expect a positive response or is questioning the sincerity of the listener’s previous statements about their well-being.
- Urgency or worry: When the speaker’s volume increases and their tone becomes more intense or anxious, the question takes on an urgent or worried connotation. This inflection might be used when the speaker has reason to believe the listener is going through a difficult time or is in some sort of trouble.
Understanding the nuances of speech inflection can help you better interpret and respond to the question “how are you?” in various social situations.