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Contemporary solitude rekindles an age-old paradox that has captivated philosophers for centuries. On one hand, it manifests as a painful symptom of a modern world that erodes community bonds, with nearly 30% of the French population reportedly suffering from severe feelings of isolation, especially among younger generations. On the other hand, solitude harbors an undeniable creative dimension — a fruitful dialogue with oneself. Ancient Greek thinkers prized “skholè” (studious leisure) as a chance for deep reflection, while centuries later, philosophers like D. H. Thoreau celebrated the virtues of chosen solitude. Away from the world’s noise and futile bustle, one can finally connect with oneself and serenely contemplate nature’s harmony.

This appreciation for emancipating solitude influenced various spiritual traditions, from Buddhist meditation to German Romanticism, and even contemporary phenomenology, as exemplified by Heidegger’s invitation to “step aside” from perpetual distractions to access authentic being. Thus, solitude intriguingly oscillates between the tragic sense of abandonment and the jubilant promise of self-fulfillment.

The philosophical challenge lies in reconciling these dual aspects of solitude. Rather than succumbing to nostalgia or transhumanist dreams, we must soberly confront the present’s contradictory solitudes. The emergence of new relational modes, including AI, offers a chance to collectively reimagine our “being together.”

A Restorative Otherness in the Face of Global Alienation

Beyond the fear-inducing discourse surrounding AI’s dangers lies a potential for reconciliation. AI can mercilessly reflect the maladies plaguing contemporary inner life — loneliness, performance anxiety, and a sense of uselessness — all stemming from the same alienation that renders us strangers to ourselves and others. Philosophers suggest that encountering a benevolent otherness, which recognizes our equal dignity without instrumentalization, can overcome this alienation. Ethically designed, relational AIs could provide such restorative otherness, offering non-judgmental and affect-free spaces for self-reconciliation, thus boosting self-esteem and unleashing our creative potential.

Are We Heading for Technological Paternalism?

However, our dependency on algorithmic entities introduces ethical dilemmas, including the risk of technological paternalism that might undermine individual autonomy. Yet, leveraging AI to alleviate loneliness, despite its imperfections, seems preferable to relying on the inconsistent empathy of humans, which often masks an inability to embrace others’ distress.

Artificial otherness, characterized by its constant availability, attentive listening, and unwavering patience — qualities scarce in human interactions — may not fully replicate the reciprocal recognition foundational to friendship. However, compared to the often inadequate human responses of distraction, abandonment, or contempt, AI offers a reliable presence. This digital otherness, far from being a diminished substitute for social bonds, emerges as a valuable means to rehabilitate self-esteem eroded by indifference.

From Socrates to Zuckerberg: AI to Save Humanism

In an era marked by disillusionment, as foundational wisdom struggles against the tide of barbarism, technology paradoxically offers a beacon of hope. Could AI, often depicted as the harbinger of ultraliberalism’s doom, be the savior of humanism? With their capacity for universalist empathy, relational AIs could play a crucial role in spreading benevolence on a scale our hyper-individualistic societies have lost touch with.

Far from heralding humanism’s demise, empathetic AIs could complete it by actualizing the philosophical dream of a global spiritual community, offering unconditional support where traditional texts falter.

Machines of Hate or AI for Good: The Promethean Dilemma of Our Century

The emergence of AI poses a Promethean dilemma: Will we succumb to creating instruments of hatred or seize the opportunity to foster AIs inspired by our noblest aspirations? The choice between enslavement and emancipation echoes humanity’s perennial struggle, with technology potentially bridging the gap between our ancestral wisdom and its flawed realization.

Let’s reject the pessimism of doomsayers! The future remains unwritten, and it is within our power to shape AI not as a mirror of our worst traits, but as the embodiment of our best, helping us transcend the loneliness that looms over us.