Technology is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the impact it is having on all aspects of modern life, including relationships.
Long gone are the days of finding love in the traditional sense, with people opting to use apps like Tinder or websites like match.com, where algorithms work to pair you up with potential suitors given your personality data. No more is the spontaneity of meeting someone over coffee or through friends something that rouses excitement of the unknown, where you have to invest time in finding out what someone is really like. Thanks to social media, you can find out more about your potential partner, their history and more before even meeting them!
Relationships have become more of a commodity than ever before. With a simple swipe left or right dictated by looks and a bio, many might be missing out on the real thing. But, we’re seeing the beginnings of an even more dramatic shift in the way in which we find love. Film and TV have explored the subject, with chatbot love in Her, romantic interests expressed by robot Ava in Ex Machina, K’s relationship with his virtual assistant in Blade Runner 2049, or the on-going human-robot relationships in shows like Westworld and Humans. If they are anything to go by, the technology could go beyond playing a part in the matching up of people, to filling in the position of suitor itself.
As robot and AI Chabot personalities get even more humanlike, could we see these inter-technological relationships become less taboo?
Through developments in engineering, artificial intelligence and understanding the way humans interact with one another, robotics companies like Hanson are creating humanoid robots that are more convincing than ever. We’ve come a long way since ELIZA. The way we interact with our technology now has forged a new type of interaction. We spend a colossal amount of time with our technology, from taking our smartphones to bed, to relying on an accurate and understandable conversation from virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri (there’s even a Big Bang Theory episode where Raj falls in love with Siri.)
The way in which people will communicate with these robot suitors will depend on their speech abilities, facial expressions, and their movements. Think about when you first meet someone, what are the signifiers you pick up on that make you attracted to them? Their laugh, their smile, their wit… Things that go beyond likes and dislikes. Imagine a machine programmed to not only agree with your preferences - favourite movies, bands, and books but one that will be built to exhibit these more humanlike qualities. Engineering and programming human intimacy is a challenge, but with companies already invested in this research, it might not be all that long until we see wider commercial availability of such bots.
Whilst some companies are manufacturing robots for more intimate relationships - as explored in Channel 4’s recent documentary. This kind of relationship aside, they could serve a much greater purpose in human intimacy and basic needs.
Robotic counterparts could bring a new era of closeness for many who just miss someone being there. Loneliness and isolation are on the rise and has been shown, in recent studies, to be a real problem impacting mental health and longevity of life. As reported by BBC, research from Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina has shown that people with stronger social bonds had a 50% increased chance of living longer. An aging population is just one factor - so could humanoid robots be part of the answer by providing some degree of human-like connection?
Regardless of the level of intimacy you might choose for yourself and a robot to have, human-robot relationships would dramatically shape societal norms. Would you really go out for a meal with your robot girlfriend? Or take your robot boyfriend for a romantic weekend away? Even if AGI is perfected, and the uncanny valley overcome, would your robot partner be spontaneous and fun, share inside jokes and quirks or would it just be a cheap replica or a quick fix for those who deem themselves unlucky in love? Or, is it just a bit of a cop-out - where you don’t have to put in the hard work a relationship requires, but simply program it?
Whether you’re all for this, or totally against it - it’s, without doubt, an interesting potentiality for the future of human relationships. And who knows, one Valentine’s Day you might just find yourself sat across from your perfect robot match.