/ Tech / By Austin Howard/ April 20, 2020
People everywhere around the world are struggling through a new kind of isolation during quarantine.
Much human-human interaction has become completely virtual and that could be a new normal that we start to accept. Funny thing is though, we’ve been heading this direction ever since the printing press, the telephone, and personal PC’s were invented.
Once things began being printed, we no longer needed to seek out experts for knowledge, we could just read their texts.
Smartphones now allow us to communicate with people across the world, run businesses, create and maintain relationships, and so much more…all at a distance.
The 21st Century Human
Now with phones and personal computers, we essentially have a control room for our entire lives. The cockpit of the human body is now most certainly a trifecta of the brain, the cellular device, and the PC.
If you ask me, humans are as close to what most people might consider Cyborgs.
From our trusty old friend Wikipedia, Cyborgs are by definition:
The moment smartphones become physically attached to the body, this definition will classify humans.
Let’s be honest, the majority (of course not all) of our time is spent on machines. Have you checked your screen times recently?
I’m at a whopping 6 hours 43 minutes on my IPhone XR! Add this to my screen time on my MacBook Pro and my desktop PC and you’d wonder when I even have time to sleep.
My point here is that: humans are philosophically and morally prepared for robotic companionship, and what better time than now…during quarantine?
We’ve developed deep relationships with our machines already, and whether we like to admit it or not, we often prioritize them over hanging out with or talking to other people.
Now imagine if your phone was your own intelligent companion (arguably already is, but either way just imagine).
It would know when you need to wake up, because it has your entire schedule memorized and is always notified with upcoming events.
Also, it knows you enjoy snoozing your alarm 3–4 times before actually stopping it so it plans accordingly by making your favorite breakfast to be ready by the time you’ve finished snoozing for the last time.
Let’s not leave out the important part: intimacy.
AI companion’s would be fully capable of providing humans with the intimacy that they need. In fact, they would have already learned your preferences by patterns in your browsing history and interactions on Snapchat, Tinder, Grindr, Instagram, OnlyFans, and whatever other sources you use. Likely your AI companion would be far more performant as a partner than another human, and would likely be able to adapt to your needs and preferences much faster.
Where Robot Companions Can’t Compete With Humans
The really worrisome question here is this:
If artificially intelligent companions can fulfill all of the relationship needs that humans desire, will human-human relationships become unnecessary?
At first it seems like this could end up being the case. But, there’s one thing that will save those of you who still want to have human significant others: Love’s Labor.
I picked up this term from Sherry Turkle, an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.
In the chapter brilliantly titled Love’s Labor Lost, in her phenomenal book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, she articulates the concept of Love’s Labor, or in other words the burden of caring for another person out of love for them.
This concept is arguably what is so intriguing about relationships between humans. The idea that another human commits themselves to caring for you out of love, or more simply, out of free will.
This all primarily boils down to our level of understanding the operations of machines vs. our level of understanding the operations of human beings.
Since we know computers are programmed, given initial conditions, and trained by models, we don’t accept that they have “free will”.
Obviously free will is a highly debated concept, and there are other ideas of how the universe works, particularly the simulation hypothesis which is gaining popularity among the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence community. The simulation hypothesis (or simulation theory) is essentially the idea that we live in a simulation and therefore humans are programmed as well. Additionally it’s widely known that the brain operates like a Neural Network which is a model used for machine learning.
Since we don’t fully understand how the brain works, we’re still captivated by the intrigue that another human would simply choose to care for us out of love. We don’t know exactly why another human chooses to be in a relationship with us but that is what makes a relationship with a robot appear more genuine.
After all, if we know that our significant other loves us because they are forced to, it’s not really love then is it?
Originally published at https://austinhoward.tech on April 20, 2020.