Are Human-AI Relationships on the Horizon?
Many of you may be familiar with the 2013 movie Her. This film features Joaquin Phoenix playing the role of a recently divorced man who falls in love with an AI-equipped technology. Fast forward a decade later and this technology seems all too possible.
In fact, recent improvements to the functionality of AI-equipped chatbots like ChatGPT have shown how sophisticated AI can be when it comes to holding conversations. With AI beginning to successfully mimic human conversation, this brings to mind the possibility of human-AI relationships. In this article, we take a look at some of the research and why you may one day view the AI in an app as a friend or even a romantic partner.
This may be the first question that comes to the minds of many people. In fact, it was certainly asked in the plot of the movie Her. We may be tempted to characterize someone likely to seek a romantic relationship from an AI-equipped system as someone who is overly lonely or perhaps has bad social skills. However, research suggests that human-machine relationships may not be so easily defined.
Research has actually found that there is no relationship between feelings of loneliness and a preference to engage with a sex robot romantically. In fact, the study didn’t find any major differences in terms of personality types. The major drivers for interest in sex robots were sexual preferences and sensation seeking.
However, human-machine relationships in the future will likely be far broader than sexual in nature. In fact, many things like chatbots could prove to be useful for general companionship needs. There are certainly a number of applications for this type of technology that seem to make sense. For example, using AI to help supplement companionship needs for the elderly could be an effective usage.
In reality, relationships between people and AI-equipped chatbots already seem to exist in some fashion. Perhaps the easiest place to see this is through the adoption of Replika AI. This product became publicly available as an app more than five years ago and has millions of current users.
The idea for Replika AI actually started from a lost relationship. When the developer’s friend died in 2015, she trained an existing chatbot that primarily made restaurant recommendations on the history of text messages between her and her friend. This technology was effective in helping her have positive memories of the lost friendship. From this, Replika was born.
The number of users of Replika grew significantly during the pandemic when many people were stuck at home, illustrating another interesting use of this AI. Researchers found that roughly 60% of Replika users had romantic aspects of their conversations with the chatbot, sometimes including things like sexting.
However, the company recently removed the ability for Replika to engage in erotic conversations. Interestingly, many users have expressed feelings of grief, loss, or heartbreak at the loss of this aspect of conversation with the virtual partner AI, which suggests the potential for human-machine relationships to illicit similar feelings as person-to-person ones.
Whether you may want a virtual partner or simply an AI-equipped friend to bounce ideas off of now and then, it is likely that the biggest barrier going forward will be the potential for stigma. After all, even the thought of dating online carried significant stigma a few decades ago. Many couples made up stories to tell others about how they met aside from on an app.
The fact that relationships from online dating have now become mainstream – and done so quite quickly – is a testament to how people will typically grow to embrace new things as technology changes. However, a human-machine relationship may be a bit of a stretch for society to quickly adapt to, especially when sexual feelings are involved.
Consider sex toys. These items have been around for an extensive period of time. While they have become more mainstream, they are still seen as quite taboo for a significant swath of the public. As such, the thought of falling in love with a machine may seem a bit too extreme of a proposition to garner significant social credibility in the near future. However, with so many people already seeking companionship through technologies such as Replika, that future may arrive sooner than we expect.