A 2018 report from National Public Radio and Edison Research reported that 8 million Americans own three or more smart speakers. By 2021, there will be almost as many personal-assistant bots on the planet as people. Amazon has sold tens of millions of their Echo devices.
Should we be concerned about machines that hang on our every word, eager to help? Judish Schelevitz thinks we should be concerned. Writing for The Atlantic last November, Schelevitz makes the following observations:
(This post is a condensed and re-organized version of two earlier blog posts.)
“Technology tends to see reality as heaps, as a conglomeration of fragments that somehow are put together by someone in order to obtain something . . . that don’t have any inner order or interiority that is resistant to human manipulation.”
When Apple unveiled its new Apple Watch Series 2 at this year’s long-anticipated launch, news of the new smart-watch was overshadowed by reactions to the iPhone 7. Yet the underpublicized news that the Apple Watch is soon to be equipped with Pokémon Go is perhaps of greater significance than the annoying fact that Apple has decided to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone.
From my article ‘The New Couplings: Are Human & Robot Weddings Next?‘:
“Sociable robots promise to avoid the messiness of flesh-and-blood relationships through a kind of ‘customized intimacy.’ Imagine having a relationship with a humanoid that—perhaps by means of a wireless connection to your brain—knew exactly what you needed and when you needed it, knew just what to say and when to say it, and knew all your sexual desires and how to meet them. In this type of relationship, all your own needs and desires would be met, while the apparent ‘needs’ of your humanoid lover would simply be a projection of your own.
“We already have a hint of how such customized intimacy might work, derived from the way Google gives us search results. In 2007 Google imposed on the public something called the personalized search, which gives users the search results it thinks they want to see, based on all the information it has collected about them. As Nicholas Carr observes in his book The Big Switch (2008), ‘We welcome personalization tools and algorithms because they let us get precisely what we want when we want it, with a minimum of fuss.’ More recently, Google scientists have begun experimenting with something called ‘audio-fingerprinting,’ a technique that would enable Google to eavesdrop on the background sounds in your room, so it could collect even more data about you and compile a more detailed picture of your needs and desires.
“As more advances are made in machine learning, it is possible that similar algorithms could be developed to program humanoids (who may perhaps be wirelessly connected to our brains) to know exactly what we want and then instantly provide it. When that happens, will we welcome the machines that give us ‘precisely what we want when we want it, with a minimum of fuss’?
“Sherry Turkle asked numerous people that question while doing research for her book Alone Together. Her interviews suggest that some people may already possess an emotional and psychological proclivity for forming intimate relationships with machines. Turkle quotes a 64-year-old named Wesley, who reflected on the advantages of robots over real people: ‘I’d want from the robot a lot of what I want from a woman, but I think the robot would give me more in some ways. With a woman, there are her needs to consider. . . . That’s the trouble I get into. If someone loves me, they care about my ups and downs. And that’s so much pressure. . . . [With a robot] I could stay in my comfort zone.’
The prospect of humans developing love relationships with computer-programed robots is being heralded by a number of academics as the natural next step in the evolution of both computers and human beings.
Robots already meet a number of human needs, especially in industry. As technology advances to the point where robots can be designed to act in ways that are virtually indistinguishable from human behaviors, many are wondering why we should object to robots being programmed to meet our emotional, psychological, and sexual needs as well.
Thus, excitement is brewing in the budding field of social robotics that it may one day be possible to produce machines that can facilitate the pleasures of romantic relationships without requiring the effort and mutuality that are needed to sustain a relationship with a real, live human being.
In my feature in the latest edition of Salvo magazine I explain why Western society is approach a state of psychological and philosophical readiness to begin marrying machines, and I also suggest some reasons why this might not be such a good idea. My colleagues at Salvo have been kind enough to put my article online for the benefit of people who can’t afford to subscribe to the magazine. The following link takes you straight to my article:
The New Couplings Are Human & Robot Weddings Next?
You may think the advertizement above is a joke. And you wouldn’t be wrong…for now. The above fake ad was inspired by real events, including the words of various academics concerning the imminent possibility of human-robot marriages. Ads like this may soon be appearing in magazines throughout the world.
To learn more about this, read my 4-part series about robot marriages.
The technology of social robotics is advancing so fast that there could soon be robots that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings, both in how they look and also in how they act. In the picture on the right it is obvious that the object on the left is a robot, but with the pace of technology being what it is, we may soon have robots that look (and even act) like the human on the right. When this day arrives, inevitably people will want to know if they will be allowed to marry their robots. Believe it or not, lawyers and academics are already discussing the ethics and legality of human-robot marriages.
Would you exchange your boyfriend for a robot if he was better able to meet your needs?
One final piece of the puzzle must be put in place to understand our imminent psychological readiness to begin marrying our machines. In this post I will suggest that our online interactions are already priming us for the type of disembodied and narcissistic relationships necessary for marriage to robots to seem normal. I will argue that as our digital networks continue to weaken our emotional intelligence, sociable robots may soon answer the need of our narcissistic moment.
Part 1 of this ongoing series on human-robot marriage explored how popular opinion is gradually shifting from considering anthropological robots to be potentially hazardous to considering them as help-meets towards greater human flourishing. Far from being a matter only of science fiction, many serious thinkers see human-robot relationships as the next stage in our evolutionary development.
Part 2 continued this discussion by looking at some of the legal issues that scholars around the world are exploring as they are seeking to discover whether the legal infrastructure is already in place to legitimize the principle of marriage to mechanical humanoids.
This post continues that discussion by showing that our society already entertains a number of assumptions about ourselves and our world that could enable machine-human marriages to achieve widespread acceptance in the near future.
Dr. David Levy told LiveScience that around 2050, Massachusetts will probably be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots.
Romancing Robots: Legal Ramifications
Three years ago when I first came across the idea of humans marrying robots, I thought it was little more than the latest gimmick of the sex industry. But I knew I had to take the issue seriously when I began to see law publications discussing the legal ramifications of machine-people marriages.
My Lawfully Wedded Robot
The Matrix imagined a world dominated by machines.
In the 20th century there was a great deal of angst about computers becoming our enemies and taking over the world. This was reflected in movies like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 A Space Odyssey. Kubrick’s film tells the story of a space mission that goes terribly wrong after Hal, the computer controlling U.S. spacecraft Discovery One, turns sinister and kills Dr. Frank Poole. Some of these themes were echoed in the 1999 hit The Matrix, set in a future age after computerized machines have subdued most of the human race through a simulated reality. In 2004, Will Smith stared in the movie I, Robot about a time in the future when robots, designed to be human helpers, turn on their masters and try to take over the earth.
The film Her raises intriguing questions about whether it might be possible, and desirable, to overcome the tension between physical and virtual reality.
Apprehension about machines becoming our enemies is still a very potent feature of our society. But gradually another theme is beginning to emerge in the public discourse. Instead of a dystopian future where our machines are our enemies, many people are starting to experiment with the possibility that we may be heading towards a utopian future where machines are our lovers.
The intriguing possibility of having a love relationship with a robot was explored last year by Spike Jonze’s movie Her. Though the movie deals with the tension and ultimate incompatibility between physical reality and virtual reality, the film raises intriguing questions about whether it might be possible, and desirable, to overcome this tension.