Can you really fall in love with a robot?
Our company has just started to work with a new client who has developed a humanised robot, which they describe as a ‘social robot’. It is clear by my work to date with this company that advances in robotics and AI are starting to gain some real momentum. In the coming decades, scientists predict robots will take over more and more jobs including white collar ones, and gain ubiquity in the home, school, and work spheres.
Due to this, roboticists and AI experts, social scientists, psychologists, and others are speculating what impact it will have on us and our world. Google and Oxford have teamed up to make a kill switch should AI initiate a robot apocalypse.
One way to overcome this is to imbue AI with emotions and empathy, to make them as human-like as possible, so much so that it may become difficult to tell robots and real people apart. In this vein, scientists have wondered if it might be possible for a human to fall in love with a robot, considering we are moving toward fashioning them after our own image. Spike Jonze’s Her and the movie Ex Machina touch on this.
Can you fall in love with a robot?
Interesting enough both the film ‘Ex Machina’, in which a computer programmer falls in love with a droid, may not be as far-fetched as you think.
A new study has found that humans have the potential to emphasise with robots, even while knowing they do not have feelings.
It follows previous warnings from experts that humans could develop unhealthy relationships with robots, and even fall in love with them.
The discovery was made after researchers asked people to view images of human and humanoid robotic hands in painful situations, such as being cut by a knife. After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.
After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.
But the beginning phase of the so-called ‘top-down’ process of empathy was weaker toward robots.
The study was carried out by researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology and Kyoto University in Japan, and provides the first neurophysiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathise with robots.
These results suggest that we empathise with humanoid robots in a similar way to how we empathise with other humans.
Last month, a robot ethicist warned that AI sex dolls could ‘contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women’
Scientists suggest that we’re unable to fully take the perspective of robots because their body and mind – if it exists – are very different from ours.
‘I think a future society including humans and robots should be good if humans and robots are prosocial,’ study co-author Michiteru Kitazaki told Inverse.
‘Empathy with robots as well as other humans may facilitate prosocial behaviors. Robots that help us or interact with us should be empathised by humans.’
Experts are already worried about the implication of humans developing feelings for robots.
The question we all need to ask is ‘do we fear a future of love with a real human to be a happy to substitute to a robot’ the idea that a real, living, breathing human could be replaced by something that is almost, but not exactly, the same thing, well, actually a robot.
By now you’ve probably heard the story of Tay, Microsoft’s social AI experiment that went from “friendly millennial girl” to genocidal misogynist in less than a day. At first, Tay’s story seems like a fun one for anyone who’s interested in cautionary sci-fi. What does it mean for the future of artificial intelligence if a bot can embody the worst aspects of digital culture after just 16 hours online?
If any AI is given the vastness of human creation to study at lightning speed, will it inevitably turn evil?
Will the future be a content creation battle for their souls?
Society is now driven by the social connections you hold, the likes and your preferences of relevancy, the movie Her is described with a complex nature, a man who is inconsolable since he and his wife separated. Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of his divorce. When he’s not working as a letter writer, his down time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. He decides to purchase the new OS1, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,” the ad states. Theodore quickly finds himself drawn in with Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. As they start spending time together they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Having fallen in love with his OS, Theodore finds himself dealing with feelings of both great joy and doubt. As an OS, Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn’t, but how does she help him deal with his inner conflict of being in love with an OS?
Though technically unfeasible by today’s AI standards, the broad premise of the movie is more realistic than most people may think. Indeed, in the past 10 years our lives have been transformed by technology and love is no exception. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to examine some of the recent developments in this area.
Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, offers virtual girlfriends and boyfriends for around $2 (£1.20) per day. These are real humans, but they only relate with their paying customers via the phone – calls or text – in order to perform fairly unromantic tasks such as wake up calls, good night calls, and (perhaps the most useful service) “sympathetically listen to clients’ complaints”. If this is all you expect from a relationship, it at least comes at a cheap price.
Similar services already exist in India, where biwihotohaisi.com helps bachelors “practice” for married life with a virtual wife, and Japan, where “romance simulation games” are popular with men and women, even when they feature animated avatars rather than human partners.
In many of today’s most fascinating visions of future love, the body itself seems like a relic of the past. In Her, for example, we encounter a social landscape where love between humans and machines doesn’t require a physical body at all. Instead we watch as Theo shares his most personal moments with an AI who he never actually touches, but who conveys intimacy through talking, sharing messages, drawings, ideas and sexual fantasies. In our current social climate, where dating often means scrolling through photos and written bios rather than interacting with people in person, the idea that you could fall in love with your computer doesn’t seem so far-fetched. After all, we are already used to more disembodied forms of communication, and, as many older generations continue to lament, many young people today are more likely to text or sext than actually establish in-person kinds of intimacy.
AI is the perfect sounding board for these modern anxieties about human connection, and 20th- and 21st-century films are filled with dystopian landscapes that showcase the loneliness of a world where intimacy is something you can buy. In many of these films, from classics such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to more modern movies like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the creators and consumers of AI are male, while the AI themselves are female. The patriarchal underpinning of this is vividly explored in sci-fi such as The Stepford Wives and Cherry 2000, where we are ushered into worlds where compliant and submissive female robots are idealized by their male creators as the epitome of perfection, and always exist completely under their thumb. The female robots we meet in these films cook, clean, are unfailingly supportive and are always sexually available, in addition to being exceptionally beautiful. These sex-bots have also become both a mainstay of humor, from the sexy goofiness of 80s films such as Weird Science and Galaxina, to the cheeky and slightly more socially aware comedies in the 90s, with the frilly, busty fembots of Austen Powers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s charmingly dippy “Buffy-bot”
Serge Tisseron, a French Psychiatrist who studies the relationships between youth, the media and images and the effect of information and communication technology on young people, reminds that, despite signs of attachments from the robot, the relation can and will always be one way.
Serge insists on the importance of a reflection around the ethical issues to avoid the destruction of human relations. Because of their interactions with efficient, high-performing and helpful robots, humans could end up being disappointed with other humans altogether, especially on a professional level. Or, we could eventually abandon our responsibilities completely and rely solely on robots to take care of our loved ones. In the end, this could result in a serious withdrawal from the human world and could affect our ability to live in society.
A final thought is that no one knows what the future holds, if robots will manage to develop their conscience and emotions but in any case, there needs to be enough preparations for their development and integration to society.
A great quote by Colin Angle:
“In the smart home of the future, there should be a robot designed to talk to you. With enough display technology, connectivity, and voice recognition, this human-interface robot or head-of-household robot will serve as a portal to the digital domain. It becomes your interface to your robot-enabled home.”
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