Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bad Bots and the Women—and Men—who Love Them!

Would you like to go on a date?

Recent artificial intelligence (AI) films like Her (excellent) and Transcendence (meh, it was OK) have entered a not so new question about computers and where they’re taking us as a culture.  I’m not really a scifi/futurist writer (although I’ve played one for teleconferences) but every now and then, I’m engaged on a science-y topic that invites some logical discussion.  The question of AIs walking among us is nothing new.  One of the earliest science fiction movies, Metropolis (1927), had AIs.  Westworld, which came out in 1973, the year I was born, posited the question of using life-like androids as a means of high-end entertainment.

But most of the earlier films (and writing, for that matter), have AIs going awry in a really bad way.  Witness the impressive, but psychotic, actions of one HAL 9000 when “his” programming is tampered with in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Newer films posit the ever-rising possibility and plausibility of humans not just killing or being killed in horrible ways by AIs (Terminator, Blade Runner, Alien, Resident Evil, etc.), but also having relationships with our artificial creations.  No, not just those, relationship, as Jude Law showed us through his android gigolo in the Spielberg/Kubrick A.I. (although, those as well).  The meaningful, emotionally-connected relationship that most humans strive to seek and find, but generally fall short—like Haley Joel Osment showed us through his little boy character in the Spielberg/Kubrick A.I.

Come with me if you want
to have an emotional connection!
Before you reject the argument out of hand, consider for just a moment the depth of emotion and connection that online relationships/dating elicits.  If you’ve never watched an episode of Catfish, well maybe you’re the lucky one.  On the other hand, when 99.44% of the “catfishers” turn out to be less than they suggested online, the explosion of drama is like witnessing the Hindenburg, but in color and with people.

Of course, those are people, real, breathing, eating, farting people, on either end of the interwebs screen, and the emotion is real, even if it’s based on a lie.  Part of this is because we, as humans, want to love and be loved—so much so that we’re willing to be blind to obvious, and repeated, red, neon, warning flags.  Already, there are examples of online and real life interactive programs that can and have replicated emotional connections.

In some ways, an artificial companion would be better than the messy, complicated, social interactions we currently navigate on a daily basis.  Take Facebook for example.  Have you had “a friend” who lost friends over a comment, a joke, a political or social stance?  I know I have.  Although that’s mostly because not all my jokes are funny.  Now consider an AI, free from a lot of the emotional baggage and triggers that human companions are subject to. There could potentially be less work to be done in a relationship, on whatever level. We’re talking about mimicry here, not an actual emotional response, but if it's a perfect mimicry of love, affection, tenderness, etc., will you be able to tell the difference? If you can't tell the difference between "real emotion" and mimicry, does it matter?

Some empathy for others isn't full empathy. It can't be. You'd be emotionally bankrupt on a constant
Search your feelings.  You know that I am cute!
basis if you were always empathizing with friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and Michael J. Fox. But based on experience (which you draw from your memory bank and social programming algorithms), you know that you can make certain sounds and certain facial expression so that the other person at least THINKS that you care. You probably do care, but you aren't actually empathizing with them. Or maybe you don't care, but you just want the other person to believe you do, for whatever reason—social constraints require it.

Could you love an artificial human … real love?  The answer is obviously yes. Humans can feel strong emotional connections to any number of non-human things. Animals/pets, books, movies, inanimate objects of all stripes. We assign an emotional value to them, and they take on that meaning, whether they want to/can or not.  If an AI, an artificial human, can return emotion, even if it's perfect mimicry, as a real human you probably wouldn't care. If you can't tell the difference, then you have a loyal, loving, caring companion—just like Suzette—in many ways better than a real human.

Except for Batman. Nothing is better than Batman.

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