Robots and Social Narcissism

From my article ‘The New Couplings: Are Human & Robot Weddings Next?‘:

“Sociable robots promise to avoid the messiness of flesh-and-blood relationships through a kind of ‘customized intimacy.’ Imagine having a relationship with a humanoid that—perhaps by means of a wireless connection to your brain—knew exactly what you needed and when you needed it, knew just what to say and when to say it, and knew all your sexual desires and how to meet them. In this type of relationship, all your own needs and desires would be met, while the apparent ‘needs’ of your humanoid lover would simply be a projection of your own.

32phillips“We already have a hint of how such customized intimacy might work, derived from the way Google gives us search results. In 2007 Google imposed on the public something called the personalized search, which gives users the search results it thinks they want to see, based on all the information it has collected about them. As Nicholas Carr observes in his book The Big Switch (2008), ‘We welcome personalization tools and algorithms because they let us get precisely what we want when we want it, with a minimum of fuss.’ More recently, Google scientists have begun experimenting with something called ‘audio-fingerprinting,’ a technique that would enable Google to eavesdrop on the background sounds in your room, so it could collect even more data about you and compile a more detailed picture of your needs and desires.

“As more advances are made in machine learning, it is possible that similar algorithms could be developed to program humanoids (who may perhaps be wirelessly connected to our brains) to know exactly what we want and then instantly provide it. When that happens, will we welcome the machines that give us ‘precisely what we want when we want it, with a minimum of fuss’?

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“Sherry Turkle asked numerous people that question while doing research for her book Alone Together. Her interviews suggest that some people may already possess an emotional and psychological proclivity for forming intimate relationships with machines. Turkle quotes a 64-year-old named Wesley, who reflected on the advantages of robots over real people: ‘I’d want from the robot a lot of what I want from a woman, but I think the robot would give me more in some ways. With a woman, there are her needs to consider. . . . That’s the trouble I get into. If someone loves me, they care about my ups and downs. And that’s so much pressure. . . . [With a robot] I could stay in my comfort zone.’


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