Hey Siri, Will You Marry Me?
Can – and should – humans fall in love with machines? Discovery D/CODE tackles this contentious topic, but it may not be so cut and dried.
From the seminal 80’s classic Blade Runner to 2016’s Westworld, the idea of humans falling in love with machines has been a science-fiction staple for decades, but it’s only now that technology has advanced enough to turn fantasy into reality. Two Japanese studies, one from Kyoto University and the other from Toyohashi University of Technology, have found neurological evidence showing that humans have the capacity to feel empathy for robots, knowing full well that they are machines and cannot experience the world the way a living organism can. But one doesn’t need scientific papers to know this. News stories about people choosing robots as life partners abound, the reason behind their romantic unions are all too human.
There are numerous stories of men finding true love with machines. A gamer identified as Sal 9000 married Nene Anegasaki, a character from the Nintendo DS video game Love Plus live on the internet. She is, he’s said, the perfect girlfriend. One assumes that she is now the perfect wife. The VR game Niizuma Lovely x Cation, meanwhile, allows players to form significant relationships with one of its three characters. The game even offers a wedding chapel so players can marry their virtual girlfriends, adding a dose of realism and an extra level of fun to their gameplay.
Building Prince Charming
It’s not just men who fall in love with machines. A French woman named Lilly who identifies as a robosexual, 3D-printed her own lover, who she named InMoovator. Lilly discovered her attraction to robots when she was 19, after two relationships with humans left her wanting. Her quest to improve on InMoovator’s design and function has encouraged her to study robotics so that she can program her boyfriend to one day return her affection.
Eros ex Machina
Love isn’t even on the table for some folks. A sex doll brothel opened in a secret location in Barcelona in early 2017. Even though its owner, Sergi Prieto, said that the brothel’s aim was to offer clients the opportunity to experience their “wildest fantasies,” he’s had to turn away people seeking more extreme fetishes. After all, there are some lines that should not be crossed, not even with sex robots.
Other robot manufacturers, such as the ones behind Japan’s wildly successful Pepper robot, which is programmed to handle simple commands and conversation, specifically tell owners that Pepper is not for having sex with.
The Code of Love
Despite protest and scepticism, it seems that falling in love with robots is inevitable. David Levy, the author of the book, Love and Sex with Robots, has predicted that marrying robots will be the norm by 2050. This brings up its own set of issues. Experts worry that romantic attachment to robots and other forms of artificial intelligence could erode relationships between human beings. There is also the fear that robot makers might design AI with the ability to take advantage of children and the elderly, who can be easily duped into giving away their money.
On the flip side, relationships with AI might encourage empathy and could aid in staving off loneliness in the humans who interact with them. Ethical questions like these have pushed manufacturers of companion robots to stress that they manufacture tools, not replacements for human relationships.
It remains to be seen where human-AI relationships will go. After all, 2050 is still a long way away.