Monday, August 13, 2018

There Will Never Be An Age of Artificial Intimacy?


NYTimes | Years ago I spoke with a 16-year-old girl who was considering the idea of having a computer companion in the future, and she described the upside to me. It’s not that the robot she’d imagined, a vastly more sophisticated Siri, was so inspiring. It’s that she’d already found people to be so disappointing. And now, for the first time, she explained me, people have options. Back then I thought her comments seemed prescient. Now I find them timely.

“There are people who have tried to make friends, but stumbled so badly that they’ve given up,” she said. “So when they hear this idea of robots as companions, well … it’s not like a robot has the mind to walk away or leave you or anything like that.”

This girl had grown up in the time of Siri, a conversational object presented as an empathy machine — a thing that could understand her. And so it seemed natural to her that other machines would expand the range of conversation. But there is something she may have been too young to understand — or, like a lot of us — prone to forget when we talk to machines. These robots can perform empathy in a conversation about your friend, your mother, your child or your lover, but they have no experience of any of these relationships. Machines have not known the arc of a human life. They feel nothing of the human loss or love we describe to them. Their conversations about life occupy the realm of the as-if. 

Yet through our interactions with these machines, we seem to ignore this fact; we act as though the emotional ties we form with them will be reciprocal, and real, as though there is a right kind of emotional tie that can be formed with objects that have no emotions at all.