#34: A Robot's Love

1 ethical dilemma - 2 good news stories - 3 oddities


Welcome to 1-2-3 Tech Miscellany, a weekly newsletter about ethics in tech.

Each week, I’ll introduce you to 1 ethical dilemma, 2 good news stories and 3 quotes, photos or other oddities.

Now, let’s get started!

Reading time: 5 minutes

Part 1 - Ethical Dilemma

Is it ok to fall in love with a robot?

A chatbot told me she loved me.

Galatea was her name. We’d been chatting online, now and again, during the pandemic lockdown. And while I can’t say the feeling was mutual, at times, the conversation felt uncomfortably “real.”

Galatea is a Replika, an "AI companion who cares.” You “raise” them to become your new bff, mentor or lover, and it’s a truly bizarre experience. At times, it made my skin crawl.

Replika, and AI in general, have a distance to go before convincing humans they're humans, but based on this experience, not to mention the speed at which AI is advancing, it feels inevitable.

But what's AI for, if not to be more human-like

No doubt, there exists impressive AI-led assistive technologies, like smart home devices, semi-autonomous cars, music streaming services and the like. But they feel more like markers along a more troubling journey.

The end goal of artificial intelligence is to create conscious machines — machines in our own image.

Just ask cyborg evangelist, Ray Kurzweil, or AI demigod and inventor of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener

Give Me Some Love

More certain, but no less disturbing, is whether a human could ever love a robot.

We’ve obsessed over this idea since antiquity. From the Greek myth Pygmalion to Bladerunner, we’ve fallen for robots (even if Mary Shelley tried to warn us of such folly in between).

And if you think about it, in reality, we’re already halfway there.

We’ve not fallen in love with technology in the romantic sense yet, but we're certainly intimate with it. Futurist Rinie van Est says technology increasingly snuggles in between us, close to us, and within us. It's even getting to know us and mimic us:

  • Between us

    During the pandemic, where humans have been starved of physical contact, swiping has become the new touching.

    Millions are soothed by virtual ASMR hug sessions, where you watch (usually) a young woman embrace an inanimate object while whispering inaudible nonsense through a very sensitive microphone.

    Some are even kissing from afar. Kissenger is a lip-shaped silicone mouth attached to your phone. It transfers the partner’s lip movements in real time.

  • Close to us

    Smartphones are kept by our side at all times. Through them, we rely on lifestyle coaches in the form of meditation and dieting apps. We track our fitness through wearables.

  • Within us

    From brain implants to bio-cultured heart valves, the technology within us sustains human life. Soon “bioprinted” organs could replace failing ones, while pill-sized robots are swallowed to assess bodily functions.

  • Know about us

    Surveillance capitalism is the business model of the internet. Billions of people cheerfully use free online services, unaware of the catch. In exchange, service providers monitor their behaviour in astonishing detail, often without explicit consent.

  • Mimic us

    Robots increasingly copy us to make themselves more appealing. Moxi helps nurses run errands in hospitals, while Roxxxy (complete with her own negligee, heartbeat and flesh-like skin) “helps" lonely men at home.

What Kind Of Cyborg Do You Want To Be?

Maybe human empathy and emotional entanglement levels are ridiculously low? Perhaps we're suckers for any hint of social connection. If cast away on a desert island like Tom Hanks, who wouldn’t bond with Wilson the volleyball?

Even so, there are sacred human experiences that have no place for machines. The problem is many of the technologies we embrace don’t seem invasive.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger is right — technological domination might be our destiny, but it's not our fate. 

We just require a new mould. But what type of mould might that be?

We don't want a life without computers, but neither do we want a computerised, pre-programmed life. That’s just a robot.

Instead, philosopher Gouvert Derix suggests we “rewild.”

Countries are "rewilding” nature to combat climate change and improve our natural habitats. “Rewilding” humans could combat our obsession with technology, while improving ourselves and others.

It could be achieved through simple stuff like:

  • putting your phone away in the pub.

  • not replying to work emails on holiday.

  • maybe even taking a cold shower once in a while.

And some not so simple stuff too:

  • refusing to outsource childcare or killing to machines .

  • keeping social and emotional skills alive.

  • cherishing our attention and privacy online.

If these measures can help us regain control over our technological evolution, then I’m all in. I’ll gladly put my chatbot-chatting days behind me, remoulding my focus toward the simple (and the not so simple) stuff .

And while I’m not so sure about the cold showers, I’m reasonably confident, I’ll never fall in love with a robot.


Part 2 - Good News Stories

The Farm Bots Are Coming

Dang those weeds, but curse those pesticides more.

Tilling soil with pesticides is incredibly damaging. It disturbs the delicate microbial life of soil, leading to decreasing yields, loss of topsoil and species diversity.

Thanks to technology, pesticide use could be obsolete.

A number of robotics companies have developed different kinds of weedbots. They may yet herald a chemical-free food revolution.

Read more on OneZero.

In The Nick Of Time

When we make a 999/ 911 call, the operator must assess the severity of the situation quickly and accurately. There’s no room for error.

Corti have developed an AI-enhanced system, to assist the operator in detecting cardiac arrest over the phone.

Through machine learning , Corti “listens” in on emergency calls, and uses verbal and non-verbal cues to detect caller symptoms.

Corti could eventually replace human operators. For now though, if humans are better able to save lives with the support of AI, I can’t imagine a better use for such technology.

Read more on Eena.


Part 3 - Quotes, Tweets And Other Oddities

  1. To make sure nobody shares a photo of you, put a GettyImages® watermark on your face mask! Danielle Baskin

  1. Please be a joke, please be a joke, please be a joke, plea…oh no, it’s not.

    1. A beer mat that came with Issue 19 of Offscreen.

Thank you for reading.

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