Friday, October 19, 2007

Will You Marry a Robot?

I couldn't pass up commenting on this article by Roland Piquepaille. It seems that David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher, will publish a book in November titled “Love and Sex with Robots.” Levy claims that within a few decades, we will be able to produce robots that are so human like in their appearance, functionality, and in their expression of human-like emotions, that many people will be falling in love with them, having sex with them, and even marrying them.

I suspect that people will consider this possibility either very interesting, very disturbing, or both. Is it realistic? People do have a strong tendency to mistakenly project humans qualities into non-human things and develop emotional attachments to them. Consider how common it is for people to treat pets as if they were cute little human children. Admittedly pets are emotional beings that people can develop relationships with, but all too often people mistakenly project too many human characteristics on them. It seems like a natural tendency we have.

People claim they "fall in love with their cars" all the time. (Personally, I have enough trouble developing relationships with humans. I never understood how people can develop strong emotional attachments to a hunk of rusting metal that you will discard in a few years, but I digress...) I think it's only a matter of time before people develop emotional attachments to computer controlled mobile objects (i.e. robots). Sexual activity with them could happen well before this. The market for this is potentially huge.

Is this a good or bad thing for society? I've heard that there is a declining trend in some Muslim communities for men to marry. They instead "marry their television", which is a slang expression for turning their attention to the newly available porn available on satellite TVs. This also suggest that adult version of online virtual reality ( "2nd Life", or other big multiplayer games) is a huge market just waiting to be tapped. The potential for addiction is great here, and the impact on the ability to develop relations with real humans is something to be concerned about.

So computer related sex - yes, it will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated than today's online porn. Computer marriage? No. Marriage is a different type of thing. It is a commitment on a deeper emotional level between humans with all their idiosyncrasies and faults. It is a commitment to share finances, goals, emotional support, sacrifices, physical support in case of accident or illness, and to grow old together. This is not the relationship you have with non-human things. I'm not sure I want to sacrifice to meet my robot's needs, which is a fundamental aspect of marriage. I expect the preferred relationship with robots will be more like a friendly servant - potentially one with "side" benefits.

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