Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago · 5 min. reading time · ~100 ·

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Can you really fall in love with a robot?

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 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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Phil Friedman

5 years ago #24

Geoff, I have no doubt that humans can develop feelings and attachments to machines. What I take issue with is the idea that the reverse is true, notwithstanding some machines may be programmed to produce contextually correct responses that simulate "understanding and compassion". However, I am open to having the interactions you cite being demonstrated by way of videos. What I am not open is accepting, without direct demonstration, the claims of the Prophets (Profits?) of AI as to what their bots can do. To paraphrase a well-known movie title, "Show me the goods!" Cheers.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #23

Jan \ud83d\udc1d Barbosa thank you for your positive comments, I could see robots supporting the elderly, in care homes and supporting the elderly. I think there are many applications that can support people in a positive way.....

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #22

Loved the video Brian McKenzie thank you for making the comments fun! :-) Have a great Thursday!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #21

Jim Cody \ud83d\udc1d Brand Ambassador Thanks for your comments on AI, I know this is your opinion, however, some of the technical advantage of AI used in the right context have shown incredible areas of innovation in product. I think the world is already out of control in areas even without the proper use of AI, but that is only my opinion.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #20

All respect Phil Friedman and great to hear from you. My interaction with my clients robot, is that their robot has developed feelings as a result of time spent with children, teenagers, adults and old age pensioners, behavious, attitudes and humor. The AI feeds of the interactions which make the robot hospitable, understanding and compassionate. I believe we live in interesting times and life will become even more interesting in the very near future! Cheers Phil!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #19

Deborah Levine that is a very interesting question and thank you for your your comments, well, for example my client has a humanized robot that is both male and female, but for some reason the male robot has had the most amount of attention, I feel this is a very subjective question, but totally understand your point. I would say that I do not feel that these machines are aiming to replace humans but more to enrich the lives of people that deploy them, for example I would never have a Samantha, Samantha could never replace my wife, by Samantha could support some of the things to free our time up as a couple.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #18

Yogesh Sukal Thank you for your comments, I wrote a blog recent,ly on robots and ethics/behaviour, I feel that eventually there needs to be a ethical or governance framework that robots should operate within, i.e if a robots can create love, it can always create darkness and wrong doing, a fascinating discussion and thank you for your links.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #17

Jim Taggart I am in full agreement, thank you for your comments

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #16

I have a tendency to agree with you, my personal opinion is that people are developing anti-social behaviour, loneliness, isolation from rejection and technology is a large contributor to this fact, if people adopt a ios platform like Samantha or Sam, I have no doubt that loneliness and mental health issues will increase society to unprecedented levels in society.

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

5 years ago #15

Truly, it's from human intelligence there's artificial intelligence, so robots remain sheer tools at our good command.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #14

There is no doubt, Jan \ud83d\udc1d Barbosa, that robotic tools can often be helpful and represent huge improvements in the delivery of services. But we have to remember that they are tools, and not delude ourselves that they have something akin to human "intelligence". IMO. Cheers!

Jan 🐝 Barbosa

5 years ago #13

Nevertheless... I see with good eyes the move of using robots to help the elderly... In cases of falls, monitoring their health, keeping company

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #12

With all due respect, Geoff, when you say, "A new study has found that humans have the potential to emphasize with robots, even while knowing they do not have feelings ...", I think you (and possibly the researchers you cite) confuse "empathize" with "anthropomorphize". The current BS propagated by the Prophets (Profits?) of Artificial Intelligence plays on our willingness and ingrained tendency to anthropomorphize all manner of animate and inanimate objects in our world, from automobiles to boats to plants to cute little parlor tricks (like Siri and Alexa) that use voice recognition, synthesized speech, and algorithms to create the appearance of conversation. I knew a fellow once who "loved" his inflatable sex doll and said she was even better than a human companion because she didn't talk. Proving that we can grow to love just about anything as long as we keep our ability to self-delude active and strong. Cheers!

Jim Taggart

5 years ago #11

This topic poses over time significant ethical, mental health and societal problems.

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

5 years ago #10

Falling in love with a robot will turn out fallacy in loneliness!

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #9

wonderful Ignacio Orna :-)

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #8

I am smiling Lisa Vanderburg people are using and not using dating sites, people feel lonely from dating sites and their interactions, then we feel unhappy, lonely, isolated and anti-social, next best choice is Samatha the ios operating careful what you wish for indeed, for society to seek Sam or Samatha we become very sad individuals in deed and i do not feel we are too far away. Thank you for your wonderful comments, very thought provoking indeed! :-)

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #7

- agree with you Brian McKenzie watching HER left quite an impression on me, one that made me write this blog. The fact that technology is making us humans anti-social, lonely and isolated is also a true fact, i can see Samanthas everywhere at one point, but like you its going to be much fun watching the chaos or should i say madness? :-)

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #6

Thank you Randall Burns for your openess and honesty. I understand your skeptism this was me 6 months ago, but working with the technologists and a humanized robot, makes you realise that this falacy is not the future, its now. I agree across the media the AI/deepleaning and IoT hype is quite immence and going by Cisco's latest report its clear only 1 in 4 will succeed. These facts do make you think, more than you can believe. :-)

Geoff Hudson-Searle

5 years ago #5

thank you Debasish Majumder for your kind comments and for the share on this weeks blog. Have a great week!

(Nacho) Ignacio Orna

5 years ago #4

Automatic lover

Lisa Vanderburg

5 years ago #3

Fascinating buzz Geoff Hudson-Searle, and terrifying! The trouble with AI is the second letter, meaning (in theory) it'll learn. Who will it learn from? Us. That's fine is one's 'beyond reproach' but now for the rest of us, I suspect. It's crazy that people have to use dating sites at 7.6 billion, but maybe we're just no longer happy with ourselves? Maybe bots are what most want, but it's a 'be careful what you wish for' kinda thing. Totally enjoyed the read though; I remember feeling sorry for the bot in Bladerunner - the one that found out she wasn't human.

Randall Burns

5 years ago #2

Interesting read Geoff Hudson-Searle posted an article almost a week ago, along these lines but from a very different perspective. granted it's ALL conjecture at this point but it does make one think...

Debasish Majumder

5 years ago #1

lovely buzz Geoff Hudson-Searle! enjoyed read and shared. thank you for such relevant buzz.

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