Have you ever heard of the Turing test? Alan Turing was the father of modern computing. In 1951, he proposed that if a person had to guess if he was interacting with a human or a machine, and he was wrong at least half the time, then he couldn’t tell the difference between a human mind and an artificial one. The machine could be considered intelligent. This true Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been the holy grail of computer science for decades. When this is achieved, and I believe it will be achieved within a generation, how would it change society?
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When we fall in love with one another, we fall in love with each other’s minds and personalities. The romantic words, the deep conversations, little things each day such as compliments and jokes. We become attached to their voice, to their unique quirks. Affection and attraction ultimately cross all boundaries. Interracial marriage, same-sex marriage, they still face obstacles and opposition around the world, yet that doesn’t stop people. We love who we love, and that will ultimately pave the way for social progress.
When an AI reaches a true simulation of human intelligence, would it be so far-fetched to think humans could fall in love with them? That a meeting of the minds could transcend the boundary between the biological and digital? Think of how attached people are to their phones right now. The more time we spend talking to Siri, the more Siri comes to understand our preferences and our thinking patterns. What we ask and how we ask it, what we want and how we want it. In a true AI with a personality, we would be learning from Siri as well. What Siri wants, how Siri thinks.
Along with advances in robotics and fine-tuned motor function to simulate facial expressions and human movement, and material science for realistic skin tone and texture, we’re getting closer to a synthetic spouse.
Necessity is often a catalyst for change. I want to explore three scenarios where a marriage to an AI may be more practical or desirable than a human marriage. These may force society to get used to the idea more quickly, to bring it from the realm of science fiction to reality. After all, competition with the Soviets drove the Americans to land a man on the moon, something that was once no more than a writer’s fantasy.
1) Skewed sex ratio: A legacy of China’s one-child policy.
In 2014, China’s official news agency (Xinhua), stated that the gender ratio at birth was 116 boys born for every 100 girls. This was a lot higher than the global average of 103-107 boys to every 100 girls. The reason for this imbalance is that outside of the cities, the one-child policy has been more of a “one-and-a-half” child policy. The Chinese preferred having a son since he would be expected to care for his parents in old age. So in rural areas, if your first child is a girl, you are allowed to have a second child with a 50% chance it is a guy. If your first child is a boy however, you cannot have another, so no equivalent chance of having a girl as a second child. This imbalance has led to more males being born than females.
The one-child policy has been ended, but there is a demographic time bomb. The result is that tens of millions of males will become adults without an equal number of females. This shortage leads to increased competition and stress in finding a marriage partner. For those unable to find a partner at home or abroad, an AI alternative may become attractive. With a potential market in the tens of millions in China alone, this could become a very lucrative industry. I see big corporations competing with each other to make their AI brides visually more appealing, with ever more responsive and cuter personalities. History has shown that the desire for love and companionship will overcome socially accepted norms. China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, where traditions and customs are strongly ingrained. If AI marriage can disrupt traditional marriages here, it can probably do so anywhere.
2) Elderly widows and widowers: Caring and Companionship for the remainder of their lives
When a spouse dies, it’s a devastating experience, no matter what your age. However, it can be especially difficult for seniors. It’s been shown that those over 65 that lose a spouse often experience a rapid decline in their health and a higher chance of dying themselves within the first 3 months. If you’ve spent decades with someone, doing everything together like preparing meals, having afternoon walks, saying I love you every day, having all that change can be very hard. Social isolation is very real, dealing with new responsibilities such as managing finances can be a stressful learning curve. All of this can add up to defeat a person, mentally and physically.
Now what if you could opt to have yourself recorded by your phone, for example? Your conversations, your day-to-day activities, your regular walking route. Pretty creepy, huh? Well, isn’t that information being collected from us now? Our phones know where we go, how many steps we take, what we buy, the kinds of things we look at and search for when we think no one is looking. They recognize our individual voice, our unique fingerprint. Data collection already permeates our lives, and it won’t stop.
With all this data collection though, you could recreate your spouse after death. Let an AI absorb and mimic your thinking patterns, your voice, behaviour and personality. Your favourite pasta recipe, your favourite walking route. It will never be the same of course, but if you can reduce the feeling of loss, if you can maintain a form of continuity and reduce the amount of change forced upon the survivor, that could go a long way in helping them getting back on track.
An AI partner has other advantages too. It can manage your finances, remind you to take your medications, it will never develop dementia or memory loss, and it will outlive you so you don’t have to lose a spouse again. You have someone that will provide constant companionship for the rest of your life.
If it can help reduce sickness and mortality in the elderly, I’d say it’s certainly worth exploring.
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3) The modern young people
Do you remember the pressure and the excitement when you first started dating a new partner? The amount of work you put into how you look, how you were hanging on his every word? You strove to present the best of image of yourself. But at some point in a relationship, people start to neglect that image. The waistline expands, we listen less intently, and grunting becomes of a form of communication.
We take shortcuts in our appearance and conversation. Why? Because presenting the best version of ourselves takes a high level of effort. We expend energy because we are attracted to that person, and the attraction is highest at the start. Once we have secured a stable relationship, human nature is to conserve mental and physical energy so as not to burn out.
In a relationship with an AI however, the AI will never get tired. It is the perfect listener because it has a limitless capacity for memory and analysis. It can capture all of your verbal and non-verbal responses and come up with an algorithm so that it’s always in tune with your mood. When a girl says “it’s fine,” most guys tune in to the fact there’s a problem. But how many times do they not seem to get it? Sometimes I think they are either not paying attention to what I’m trying to say, or they really don’t understand the situation. An AI can become more attentive, observant and emotionally intelligent than their human counterparts.
Another thing is, they will always think before they react. Our brain has a structure called the Limbic System, the “emotional brain”, where all information passing through can trigger responses in the endocrine system and autonomic nervous system. People can become irritable, nervous, excited, and angry before understanding why. A computer does not have evolutionary brain structures. The emotions it chooses to display are purely of its own choice and what would logically be appropriate for the situation.
We are becoming ever-more dependent on technology. They are becoming ever-more intimately intertwined with us. We depend on computers to find us a restaurant, to find the best flight and vacation deals for us, to drive us around in self-driving cars. And soon we may depend on computers for love and affection. The question is, should YOU marry your computer?
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