Technological Companionship

I’m such a child sometimes. I still have my Cabbage Patch doll sitting by my bed (the first one that came out!). I remember running out of the house to go to the nearest toy shop that had a sale on Beanie Babies. Nostalgia for younger days runs through my mind. Such a strange phenomenon to be nostalgic for days that occurred 15 years ago…

Since I’ve stopped playing with these toys, I’ve moved on to a different kind of toy: the Internet. I love the Internet. I can do so many things on it, I can chat with other people, connect with strangers, keep up with friends. SOmetimes, I worry that I am addicted to it. How would my life be different if the Internet wasn’t such an integral part of it? Would I have lost touch with friends? Would my best friend still be my best friend?

Technology is such a wonderful thing – allows us to connect to other and augment ourselves to be the best (or worst) we can be. Given technologies ability to replace almost all previous forms of communication, can we assume that technology could someday replace human contact? Already, people have the opportunity to completely ignore face to face communication and replace it with computer mediated communication (such as IM, email, SMS, etc.)

How outlandish is it to assume that someday robots will replace people as companions? There already is in existence something like this for more…adult companionship. The government is considering creating surrogate parents using robots, to replace parents who are out in the field.

Sherry Turkle has spent years researching the effects of technology of humans. In her latest book, Alone Together, she mentions the fact that we have such a low baseline for recognizing other creatures. If robots have a passing resemblance to living creatures, be it physical features or realistic reactions, we automatically assign it other traits of sentient beings. Is there anything wrong with this? Is it wrong for us to feel connected to a robot or to replace actual contact with humans with robotic/technological contact?

We have to consider the effects of using robots to replicate human connections. I’ve written before about the uncanny valley and honestly, I feel a little uncomfortable at the thought of robots being companions or surrogates. While we may be able to create intelligent AI that allows robots to develop intelligence and thought, we can’t be certain that they will develop emotions and connections. That is the most important thing about human relationships: an emotional connection.

Programmed for Love

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