My Take

Real feelings for artificial intelligence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 1:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:28pm

Most people think love and sex should be between people, if at all. That is why we find sex dolls offensive. But is this judgmental attitude justified?

We are increasingly faced with this problem because sex toys and related devices are getting more hi-tech all the time. It's highly possible that in the not-too-distant future, we can have a quasi human-like relationship with a smart machine.

The movie Her, directed by the brilliant and highly metaphysical Spike Jonze, explores precisely this possibility when our mobile phones and desktops develop an artificial intelligence that can convincingly mimic a real person. Computer scientists call this the Turing test. The problem in the movie is that such advanced AI is disembodied, that is, it has a mind of its own but no body.

That shouldn't be a problem. Practically every month, the Japanese release a lifelike robot to perform all sorts of services. Meanwhile their country has cornered the sex dolls market with such top-quality dolls as Candy Girls. As we reported recently, the dolls have taken China by storm, with its legions of lonely hearts turning to them for solace, though each costs upwards of US$2,500.

The dolls are made of thermoplastic elastomer or silicone, with adjustable hands, a removable head and detachable genitals. The most expensive versions vibrate. I suppose it's only a matter of time before their limbs can be made to caress and embrace. And with the advances in robotics, the sky is the limit - this combination of advanced AI, robotics and ergonomics. Who knows if some lonely computer or robotic genius has not already built one for himself and is living and loving happily ever after?

In this case, socio-pathological adolescents or young adults called hikikomori in Japan, intense social recluses who refuse all human interactions and rarely leave their homes, are not sick people but social pioneers.

Their condition is only a matter of degrees from which we all suffer as smart devices like iPhones increasingly dictate and mediate our relationships. What's to stop us in future from dropping human-to-human relationships altogether and diving head over heels into a loving relationship with a smart and attractive machine? That future may already be here.