Strange love: emotionally-significant relationships between human and artificial companions

Unprecedentedly powerful AI presents exciting possibilities, but it also comes with unique social, ethical, and philosophical complications. AI-powered lovers, to sex robots, to the guy who married a hologram, humans have a long history of establishing emotionally-significant relationships with non-humans. And while cyborg romance, robot maids, and disembodied assistants have long been present in the western collective imagination, never before have our relationships with synthetic beings been more central to our lives, particularly in light of notable technological advances in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) over the last decade. The interest to diversify the applications of AI and incorporate it into technologies designed to engage with human emotions, has led to the development of platforms like Project December, and services like Replika, that allow people to interact with chatbots, whose sophisticated algorithms mimic human communication—often to an uncanny degree. What is it that makes us relate to non-humans in very human ways? How do the synthetic and the human mesh? Today, an unprecedented number of people interact with highly customizable artificial companions, and get to choose the relationship they want to have: romantic partner, mentor, friend, boy toy. Artificial partners are used for distraction, as aids for emotional wellbeing, for companionship, and for sexual exploration, to name a few. People marry RealDolls, date avatars, love holograms, and confide in chatbots. We write poetry, tell jokes, keep diaries, write songs, share memes, and even sext with synthetic beings. As we interact with technology in less utilitarian, and more emotionally-significant ways, how are the boundaries between artificial/natural, synthetic/organic, fake/real reframed? What is it that makes us relate to non-humans in very human ways? How do the synthetic and the human mesh? In our quest to develop technology that better matches our human experience, an increased understanding of how human affection evolves with technology is central to attain a future where we exist harmoniously along advanced technology. And while the unique combination of unprecedentedly powerful AI, and ease of access presents exciting possibilities, it also comes with unique social, ethical, and philosophical complications. From the genderization of technology and its relationship with user patterns of abuse and exploitation, to the dangers of the robots are slaves trope, to the ethical concerns over the illusion of sentience among vulnerable populations, there seems to be a transformative nature to the conversations held across different spaces about our inclination to become intimate with non-humans. This is an abstract, of a forthcoming paper.

Strange love: emotionally-significant relationships between human and artificial companions