Are We Destined to Fall in Love with Androids?

Sex between species is relatively rare, but it does happen. Seals have forced themselves on penguins out of sexual frustration; dolphins have taken to cetaceans to assert dominance; zebras and horses have birthed zorses; and dogs occasionally get too friendly with our legs.

Even ancestral humans strayed enough to mix our genes with that of the neanderthals—but this is hardly a large leap, more like sleeping with a distant cousin, or, given that there are no neanderthals left, perhaps a one night stand we instantly regretted.

But then we get to modern humans. Compared to other species we’re exceptionally smart, we also have remarkably strange sexual behaviors. And I’m sure these things are related.

Not only are we one of the few species that attempts to be monogamous, but we deliberately circumvent nature’s true purpose with rubber sheaths, we engage in same sex relationships, we substitute people for expensive phallic toys, or opt for the company of inflatable dolls with what look like expressions of shock.

And this is without going into detail about some of the strange personal preferences we have while in the sack.

Well, all this stands to pale in comparison with what’s around the corner.

Robophilia

Would you ever get down and dirty with a moving, talking robot?

The idea probably makes many people recoil in disgust. The image of some cold, emotionless, steel-grey human-like figure getting into bed with you, ready to fulfill all your deep dark and weird desires.

It’s true, robots today are still clearly robots. They show very little signs of life, and aren’t going to take you out on a date without attracting a lot of attention.

That’s not to say people don’t still fall for them. Anyone curious enough to watch the documentary “Guys and Dolls” knows that there are people that have fallen head over heals for fake dolls, to the point that they live with them and treat them like living, breathing, loving partners.

But for the most part we prefer the company of people. Even then, we’re pretty picky about what people. But what happens when these robots start to mimic people in more realistic ways? When they look and sound and feel just like us? When they can carry on an intelligent conversation, bring you breakfast in bed, make you laugh and console you when you cry? When they can read and display every emotion in deft clarity, and are more reliable and trustworthy than real people?

These developments aren’t far off. Consider that there are robot nurses working in hospitals in Japan; there’s a friendly robot named Pepper that can read your emotions; and Sophia (seen below) by Hanson Robotics can show emotions is a fairly realistic way. Couple these technologies with applications such as Siri and devices like Amazon Echo, and you start getting close to very human like creatures.

via GIPHY

[Not] Just Another Human

There’s a big difference between interspecies breeding and whatever we call this thing between us and machines—the machines are designed to be just like us.

As far as I know, nobody is designing a four-legged sex doll. At least I hope not. Because what we’re normally attracted to is other men and women, and so any successful love-making machine is going to be designed in that image.

That being said, we do seem to want either fully realistic features or features that clearly let you know that this is a robot. If the boundaries are blurred we enter the ‘uncanny valley,’ which elicits feelings of unease and revulsion.

But here’s an important point—in the near future, chances are these love machines can be designed exactly to your liking. Instead of wading through all the fish in the sea to find your perfect match, you can adjust some sliders and create a profile and ship your perfect match over in no time. Something go wrong? Don’t worry, another can be shipped to replace it.

One company attempting such feats is TrueCompanion, whose Roxxxy doll, released in 2010, can be customized to your liking. That customization isn’t only hair color, it’s personality. According to TechCrunch, you could choose between Frigid Farrah or Mature Martha, among others.

Then there’s RealDoll, which true to its name, is probably the most realistic looking sex doll around. The creator Matt McMullen told the New York Times that since 1996 they have sold over 5,000 dolls in the price range of $5k-10k. Now Matt is working on developing realistic AI to get these dolls moving and interacting with you. The plan is, you will purchase a head containing this AI for an extra $10k, and attach it to the body of your RealDoll. This is clearly an expensive relationship.

As these relationships grow in complexity and cohesion, and of course when things become more affordable, it is going to become easier for us to grow more attached and drawn to these robots. Research already suggests we can empathize with machines about to have their robotic hands cut with scissors, even though the hand is clearly not flesh and blood.

In an article for the Huffington Post, Dr Helen Driscoll commented that:

“As virtual reality becomes more realistic and immersive and is able to mimic and even improve on the experience of sex with a human partner, it is conceivable that some will choose this in preference to sex with a less than perfect human being.”

[…]

“This may seem shocking and unusual now, but we should not automatically assume that virtual relationships have less value than real relationships”

Do You Love Me?

David Levy, an AI specialist and author of Love and Sex with Robots, anticipates that by 2050 marriages between man and machine will be regular occurrences. This may seem weird now, but consider that Erika Eiffel “married” the Eiffel Tower in 2007, and when that fell apart (not literally), she found comfort in an old partner—the Berlin Wall.

Yet any important relationship should be based on mutual love and compassion, not one directional lust of some moderately animate object. And while it appears we can empathize with, care about, and in extreme cases fall in love with, our beautiful machines, it is another thing entirely for that machine to love us back.

This one-way love is what Matthias Scheutz calls a unidirectional emotion bond. But let’s be honest, getting into the discussion of whether a computer can love and create emotional bonds is a discussion of consciousness, and that debate has been raging for some time now, with strong arguments on either side. But does the machine need to feel the same way we do, or will the impression that it does suffice?

What’s more, the ethical and moral concerns are going to be nightmares. At what point does the company of a doll become an affair? What happens if the machines turn out to be better partners than real people? Will we all just choose to mate with our mechanical partners and forgo the flesh of a fellow human being?

We ought not to forget about keeping the Earth populated, yet it does seem that we are creatures that stray into weird territories when given enough of a chance. I’m not entirely sure where this is going to take us, and I’m sufficiently creeped out. But then, what else is new.

Check out the rest of the Digital Brain Series here

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