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The reality of robotic companions

How does tying the knot with a robot sound to you?

Grace Neo


Published: 28 June 2016, 3:40 PM

Singapore’s first social robot, Nadine, has started work on Jun 25. Tapping on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to operate, Nadine is engineered to have personality and emotions, and now sits as the receptionist at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Institute of Media Innovation.

While there has been much talk about whether robots can replace jobs currently run by humans, this news made me ponder on whether human relationships can be wholly outsourced to robots.

 

NTU first introduced Nadine in 2015.
Photo credit: Screenshot from ‘Nadine the humanoid robot by NTU Singapore’

 

The creation of this “female” robotic receptionist is merely the tip of the iceberg in the trend of robots taking over traditionally human roles. The next frontier seems to be sexual relationships with the robotic kind.

It has been reported in January this year that sex robots in particular are gaining popularity. While experts have stated that sex tech is advancing at an increasing pace to meet the needs of increasingly lonely individuals, the impacts following this absurd trend are somewhat worrisome.

 

What it looks like in a sex robot.
Photo credit: wtvox.com

 

Being in an intimate relationship with a human can be both frustrating and tiresome. Arguments between human couples is a norm due to differences in personalities. On the other hand, a customised robotic significant other can serve to meet your needs and listens to your wants. But is that necessarily a good thing?

We tend to discover sides of us while fighting with other humans. By outsourcing even the difficult relationships, we are trusting our personal development to robots who have no experience being human before.

If people are already breaking up with humans who they find “robotic”, I wonder if anyone would really want a real robot as a life companion. Sure your robot partner may support you in everything you do, but this can possibly provide a false sense of reality that leads to confusion over your self-identity.

 

The movie Lars and the real girl, the protagonist suffers from delusions where he believes that a doll is his girlfriend.
Photo credit: do-androidsdreamof-electricsheep.tumblr.com

 

In the movie Her, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is troubled and perplexed upon finding out that Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the AI operating system he has fallen in love with, was in romantic relationships with hundreds of other humans. Without the moral code we were socialized since young into, robots may distort normal human-human relations by giving a false portrayal of how relationships are supposed to be.

 

Theodore and his “Girlfriend” Samantha.
Photo credit: basementmedicine.org

 

With the normalisation of sex tech, experts are foreseeing human-robot marriages in the near future. However, accepting social robots with merely engineered personalities require us to surrender a human side of ourselves. A glance at Google AI’s eerie poetry after reading thousands of romance books is enough to make one sigh in despair due to the senseless flow and emotionless stanza.

Perhaps it is wise for robotic technologies to tackle issues such as manpower constraint, but a step beyond that is highly likely to jeopardise humanity.


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