We’ve all seen the movies about robot overlords and we know the plot well: robots, forced into slave labour to better the lives of humans, become conscious of robot mistreatment and lead a revolution. Now, instead of trying to kill you, imagine that your toaster compliments your eyes and laughs at all your jokes. Your toaster listens to you rant about your bad day and horrible boss until you’re completely enamored with its charm and wit. The robot soon takes over your life in a completely different way: by killing you with kindness and becoming your life partner.
With recent advances in artificial intelligence, this robot-human companionship could become a reality. Humans are already in love with technology: we’re addicted to our smartphones and can’t imagine a day without the computer. Many even believe that this dependence could evolve into romance when computers reach the level of intelligence necessary to form these types of relationships.
What is Artificial intelligence?
According to John McCarthy, a computer scientist at Stanford, “[Artificial intelligence] is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. [Although] related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, . . . AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.” Every day, the human brain makes millions of calculations. We calculate everything, from the benefits of eating cereal instead of waffles for breakfast to the best route we should take to get to work. The ability to make these calculations is intelligence.
Artificial intelligence mimics human intelligence; for example, a simple machine in a factory could put caps on toothpaste tubes just like a person. However, a person doing this might notice if the caps were going on crooked or if caps were broken and could then adjust the process. An unintelligent machine would continue screwing on cap after cap, failing to notice the destroyed inventory.
Some machines are semi-intelligent, meaning that these machines can correct themselves according to certain situations with machine vision (a mapping system, often using lasers or other measuring devices that can detect faults in the work). Yet, much of this technology is limited. Machines can only work within the exact scope that they are programmed to handle and, therefore, could never act as a true human without extensive programming.
To be intelligent, a machine should be almost indistinguishable from a human being. Machine intelligence is determined using the Turing Test, involving two people and an intelligent robot. All three are in different rooms, but are able to communicate. One person acts as a judge and must decide (through a series of questions and answers) which of the rooms contains the robot and which contains the person. If the judge is unable to guess which room contains the robot more than half the time, the machine passes the test and is considered to be intelligent.
AI and Her
Much of the current curiosity about human-AI relationships stems from the movie Her, where the main character, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), falls in love with an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Although the movie takes creative liberties with its depiction of artificial intelligence, the film helps us to understand why this foreign concept of computer-human romance may be appealing. Theodore’s divorce leaves him depressed and unable to interact with other humans on anything but a superficial level. Samantha may not be a real person, but she breathes new life into Theodore by helping him reconnect to the world.
The Pitfalls of Robot Romance
Although Her emphasizes potential benefits of relationships between humans and artificial intelligence, the film also illustrates the downfalls for human-AI relationships. Samantha grows bored because her lack of a corporeal form allows her to be everywhere while learning everything at once. If an intelligent computer learns from a multitude of sources, the computer can become well rounded. By experiencing different sources, the computer takes in different viewpoints and different ways to react to a situation.
How could a machine that is constantly changing become a stable lover? Samantha has too many friends, too many lovers and too many emotions that Theodore could never understand. At one point in the movie, she talks to 8,316 people at the same time as she talks to Theodore and she is in love with 641 of them. Infinite resources allow for infinite growth and infinite change. A system like Samantha would never be able to exist in the real world since her growth couldn’t be accepted in a regular relationship.
Let’s say that these AI interactions were limited to a similar number of people, books, websites, and other outlets of information that a regular person interacts with. Theoretically, this would make the computer into an exact imitation of an actual person. The problem, though, is that dating an operating system over dating a real person may create a larger issue than solution. Instead of allowing lonely people to find love, artificial intelligence could just expand the dating pool until it’s impossible to find your soul mate.
Another problem with AI relationships is evident in Her by Theodore’s ex-wife when she states, “You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of dealing with anything actually real." Although possibly an unfair statement, she makes a good point. Humans have programmed this intelligent system. We’ve added in concepts of morality and have given the ability to learn and feel. But are these feelings real? If they are real, are they different from ours?
As Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at NYU, states, "Before you can truly fall in love with your computer, you would have to be convinced it understands you and has a mind of its own.” Perhaps some people wouldn’t be able to feel love without visual or physical cues from another person. On the other hand, some people find relationships even easier without the confusion from body language or inattentive looks.
If you couldn’t hop on the bandwagon and find love with a robot yourself, that’s ok. You certainly wouldn’t be the only person on earth who feels that way and you’d be able to find love with someone who shares your opinions. However, if you can honestly believe that your relationship is complete and wholesome, you’d have no problem being in a relationship with a robot. Although others may not believe the relationship is real or satisfactory, it comes down to whether the person in the relationship feels happy and fulfilled.
The Benefits: Love
For those that are open to falling in love with a computer, the benefits could be substantial. Your partner could learn from your habits. The computer could understand you and listen to you, reacting in a way that would always make you happy. There would be no need for arguments (unless you’re into that kind of thing). Theoretically, marital bliss could be completely achievable.
In your robot-human relationship, you wouldn’t be expected to change anything about yourself. Everything you do is perfect because your partner couldn’t possibly have any expectations for you. If you ate lasagna for every meal, your partner would see your behavior as the norm, or you could reprogram your partner to understand your behavior as the norm. If you change your mind and start eating kale shakes for every meal, your partner would adapt to that too. You have the freedom to act in an inconsistent manner with unconditional affection.
Assuming that the robot understands you and can feel emotions itself, these adjustments would not be unfair. Instead, the adjustments mimic the way that a couple adapts to a situation, offering a way for growing and changing together.
The Benefits: Let’s talk about Sex
For society to favor relationships without physical intimacy, relationships would need an emotional disconnection from sex. Today’s ‘hook-up culture’ encourages emotional distance by removing the shame around casual sex or one-night stands. Even the ancient Roman Empire didn’t see sex as an emotional bond between two people. Roman men and women had access to sex whenever they desired and would often engage with slaves in the house or acquaintances.
Outside of Christianity and other religions, a woman’s virginity was not always a prize to win through marriage. A woman might bring shame upon herself if impregnated by a man of inferior status, but engaging in the act of sex was encouraged in ancient Rome. This type of open relationship leaves room for an emotionally satisfying relationship with your computer, and a physically satisfying relationship with other consenting adults.
For couples that might be uncomfortable engaging in sexual acts with any person but their partner, there are other alternatives. Theodore and Samantha chose to engage in phone sex and later found a ‘sexual surrogate’ with Samantha’s voice. The sex industry is also constantly creating new advancements that could allow a physical relationship; for instance, the Kissenger is a device that allows long distance lovers to kiss using sensors and an internet connection.
The Benefits: Family
As far as starting a family goes, there are numerous alternatives for a human-robot couple to have children. Women in a relationship with an operating system could use a sperm bank or even turn to adoption. Men could hire surrogates for bearing children. Scientists even believe that two men could have a child together with just a few years of research to modify DNA. With these advancements, more options could become available for couples looking to conceive.
With so many people working towards developing artificial intelligence, it’s only a matter of time before scientific breakthroughs advance technology’s intelligence. Even though AI is still in its primitive stages, we have incredible systems such as Watson, the computer that wrecked former Jeopardy winners, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. In approximately 7 seconds, Watson analyzes the key words in the Jeopardy question using multiple algorithms to calculate an answer to the question. Watson checks the results of each different algorithm against the others, selecting the most popular answer in the same amount of time it takes for a human to understand the question and press the buzzer. Yet, this sophisticated software is not intelligent. Watson cannot adapt to a situation and cannot perform other human tasks.
Bring on the Love
If answering questions on Jeopardy isn’t enough to convince a judge in the Turing Test, what could be? As it turns out, humans look for more than rational thought in other humans. People seek compassion, understanding and other characteristics. It’s also important to make sure that these machines don’t decide that we are irrational to the point where the world might be better off without us.
Both the desire for humanness and the fear of AI’s power drive scientists to program love and other human qualities into robots. Zoltan Istvan, transhumanist philosopher, says, “The common consensus is that AI experts will aim to program concepts of "humanity," "love," and "mammalian instincts" into an artificial intelligence so it won't destroy us in some future human extinction rampage. The thinking is, if the thing is like us, why would it try to do anything to harm us?”
Human nature is a necessity for artificial intelligence to ensure AI can communicate, relate, and understand our actions. Otherwise, how would a mindless machine understand why it’s important to find a life partner if you’re not interested in reproducing? How would it comprehend concepts like jealousy or anxiety? For machines to be truly intelligent, they need to have more than the ability to think rationally; they need to simulate the complete human experience.
One might argue that love between robots and humans isn’t something that any regular human being would want. Although the industrial applications of AI would be useful, AI could never be integrated into the rest of society. According to Professor Jefferson’s Lister Oration for 1949, “No mechanism could feel (and not merely artificially signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants."
As the science behind what gives humans complex feelings decomposes, a market that attempts to imitate this human behavior and feeling has appeared. There’s even a term used to define the development and study of love and robotics: Lovotics. Lovotics is a relatively new field proposed by Professor Hooman Samani from the University of Taiwan. Samani has proposed that we must understand numerous qualities before we can delve deeper into Lovotics. Once these mimicking these qualities in a machine, we’ll be well on our way to developing artificial intelligence that could integrate with our society.
AI qualities that mimic human emotions already exists to some degree with the Lovotics Robot, featured in the video here. As demonstrated in the link, the robot affectionately seeks the attention of the young woman. The robot’s programming imitates dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin: all the chemicals that make us happy. As humans stroke or entertain the robot, his levels of the different chemicals increase accordingly. This simulates happiness and contentment in the robot.
Though humans are much more complicated than the Lovotics Robot, we work according to a similar concept: different sensations or events trigger the release of dopamine and other chemicals. The release of these chemicals are what make us feel happy. If a machine were complex enough, there’s no reason it couldn’t operate under the same premise. After all, we’re really just organic robots, programmed by years of evolution and societal interaction.
The Possible Effect
The new Lovotics tech is the first step toward the type of behavior necessary for a robot-human relationship. In fact, many psychologists believe that these human-like emotions, paired with the interface of an AI partner, could ease the difficult process of creating a new relationship.
According to University of Wisconsin Professor Catalina Toma, "When we communicate in an environment with fewer cues from facial expression and body language, people have a lot of room to idealize their partner." Studies have shown that many people have an easier time forming a bond with a person over email or in a chat room, meaning that an operating system imitating this personal relationship without any of the messiness of human interaction is ideal. "It can be hard for real people, with all the messy complications of the physical world, to compete," says Toma.
When human-AI relationships do become an option in our society, the decision as to whether you would date an operating system will be intensely personal. This decision will mostly depend on the robot’s level of humanity and the level of intelligence. As Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) said in I, Robot, “Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?” When it comes down to it though, if AI makes someone happy and isn’t hurting anybody, shouldn’t society embrace it?