Published on March 3, 2014 | by Dorothy Spencer0
Rise of the risqué robots
With the release of Spike Jonze’s Her, Dorothy Spencer examines the ins and outs of virtual love.
Love has often been compared to a drug – you’re drunk, high or addicted to love. It has the capacity to create feelings of intoxication, sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, a strange – but not unpleasant – knot in the stomach, along with a feeling of uncontrollable happiness and delusional belief, perhaps even dilated pupils, to name a few.
It’s a shame no one deals in it – just imagine ordering two grams of second date euphoria, three grams of third year opiate. It could be like a summer of love all over again.
Some people believe love is down to some uncontrollable force of nature – the truth is love is more at home in a science lab than the big, loving world. Falling in love is a biochemical process, which can be tracked by looking at changing activity in the brain, where it shows similarities to going mildly insane.
Studies show that in the first stages of love, serotonin levels plummet and the brain’s reward centres are flooded with dopamine, giving us a high similar to an addictive drug.
While you may believe you go about selecting your mates with calculated control, our initial attraction to someone is partly informed by our genetic make up and hormonal balance. We may be attracted to a certain person because their genes compliments our own, while we’re hardwired to be drawn to those who look and smell more like our families. Eau de father, anyone?
The much anticipated Sci-Fi romance Her, by director Spike Jonze, tells the story of a lonely writer who falls in love with a highly advanced operating system which is intuitive to the individual needs of its user.
The artificial intelligence system, OS1, is called Samantha and voiced by Scarlet Johansson, who has the sultry sort of voice Apple would employ – if they ever get as far as virtual people – and which men would be bound to fall in love with. This of course brings up some existential questions about what it means to be human and the possibility of human-machine relationships as technology becomes increasingly advanced.
Scientist David Levy, an expert on scientific intelligence, has predicted that by 2050 the technology will have advanced to a point where humans will have sex, fall in love, and marry robots.
Google recently announced it has paid £400 million for a British artificial intelligence firm that aims to “develop computers that think like humans”, which make Jonze’s recent release seem less of a vision of a dystopian future and more like an exploration of where we are heading in the not-so-far-flung future.
We already have sex dolls – currently only available in female vesion, ladies – and for about $9,000 you can cuddle up to ‘Roxxy’, the world’s first sex robot. But could we fall in love with machines? In the absence of hormones, smells and genetics could robots entice romantic feelings, despite the fact they are devoid of any evolutionary purpose.
This has not stopped a man from Japan from marrying an avatar from the digital dating stimulator, Love Plus, named SAL9000, while many ‘iDollators’, as they call themselves, see their dolls as life partners as well as sex toys.
If we can satisfactorily fulfil all sexual urges with machines that do not get headaches or complain about your intimate shortcomings, would some people stop seeking human relations all together?
There are already indications that some people are retreating into virtual relationships, preferring the tidy continuum of a machine program to the messy and unpredictable nature of human affairs. It’s the perfect solution for people with problems surrounding intimacy, commitment and control .
With humans increasingly able to satisfy their sexual desires independently, aided by porn, phone sex, Skype sex and increasingly lifelike sex-bots, technology is beginning to fill the hole – no pun intended – left by dwindling human contact. If we can satisfactorily fulfil all sexual urges with machines that do not get headaches or complain about your intimate shortcomings, would some people stop seeking human relations all together?
A survey conducted in Japan in 2008, and another in 2010, indicated that the Japanese – famously at the forefront of technological innovation and control – are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with flesh-on-flesh contact. 36.1 per cent of males aged 16-19 reported that they had an outright aversion to sex with another person, while some participants said that sex with another person was a bother, or that they preferred anime characters to the fleshy imperfection of another being.
Others commented that online sex is less unpleasant than worldly sexual contact, in a sign that our young digital natives may be becoming alienated from the reality of sex, with its smells and secretions.
There are evident upsides for some people’s preference for virtual relationships, since your virtual partner can’t snog your best mate, tell you they don’t love you anymore or break your heart. You’d never have the fear of loss as practically all machines can live until we decide to disconnect them. However, love with another human being is always going to be a gamble, but gambling is exciting.
While we may be capable of having superficial relationships with machines, would we ever be able to achieve the level of depth that comes from spending our lives with another human being who stays with us because they want to, who argues and gets old and wrinkly.
In the latter stages of a relationship the hormones, oxytocin – important for bonding – and vasopression kick in, these appear to be responsible for feelings of trust and connection. Roxxy can’t produce these hormones, of course. Well, not yet.
“It will be a while before we can have with computers, the kind of complex emotional relationship we have with other people, but I imagine people having one-night stands with androids will happen a lot sooner.” Gary Marcus
Her can be seen as an indictment of our growing dependency on technology as a form of escapism, a relationship that is becoming increasingly life-like and intimate. Our iPhones accompany us to bed, are capable of tracking our sleep quality and even rating our sexual performance, based on noise levels and movement – really not the most reliable indicator.
Robots are already being developed as therapeutic tools to serve as companions for people suffering with emotional trauma, and children with undeveloped social skills.
Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology who has written extensively on artificial intelligence, believes: “It will be a while before we can have with computers, the kind of complex emotional relationship we have with other people, but I imagine people having one-night stands with androids will happen a lot sooner.”
There may well come a time when we are able to create machines that we are capable of forming emotional bonds with. At least once they’ve turned you on you can always turn them off again, avoiding the awkward morning-after.