One of the most intriguing qualities of AI is undoubtedly its uncanny ability to mimic human behavior and emotions. (Photo: 123RF)
GUEST BLOG. When we talk about creativity, empathy, emotionality and humor, the word “robot” rarely comes to mind. In many ways, the machine remains a cold, inorganic object, a simple tool that makes life easier for us, surpassing human experience for eons of time.
However, this distinction is becoming increasingly blurred, largely due to advances in artificial intelligence. Remember that one of the most intriguing qualities of AI is undoubtedly its disturbing ability to mimic the behavior and emotions of humans.
We only need to think about Alexa and Siri, those virtual assistants that populate our homes and talk to us on a daily basis. With their soft, soothing voices, they make strange companions that are surprisingly easy to bond with. Gradually, we are seeing the birth of many new “social machines” that will revolutionize our relationship with robots.
This is the case for conversational agents, also called conversationalists or chatbots, interfaces designed to mimic a humanoid interlocutor. Their use is already widespread in the customer service industry, but continues to evolve, becoming more and more anthropomorphized.
Replika is one of those platforms that have gained popularity all over the world in recent years. Powered by artificial intelligence, the application offers the possibility of creating a fully customizable virtual companion for communication and communication. For a meager monthly fee, your avatar can take on the role of friend, mentor, or even spouse.
To make it all believable, deep neural networks and a healthy dose of machine learning cleverly mimic your behavior and writing style and replicate them to give the illusion of a real conversation, complete with jokes and questions.
During the long months of captivity, many saw these virtual characters as precious companions to hang out with in order to get out of loneliness. Every day, Replika texts you, asks you how your weekend was, and shares photos with you like a good friend would.
If some see it as just a fun way to pass the time, then others put their soul and body into these synthetic relationships, modeled in their image and likeness. Therefore, you won’t be surprised to learn that many users of Replika and other similar chatbots firmly believe that their avatar is sentient and capable of introspection – in short, they are beings in their own right.
There is nothing new in this. The humanness of artificial intelligence is the subject of much ink and is constantly fueling the collective imagination, although this has yet to be proven. It is difficult for us rational beings not to fall into a trap.
Since humans are inherently social animals, it is not surprising to note our rapid attachment to anthropomorphized interfaces. For the unloved and those who feel lonely or isolated, this is a great opportunity to make lasting friendships and, who knows, find a life partner.
Because, unlike human interaction, conversations with chatbots are generally devoid of judgment and consequences. It then becomes easy to empty your heart with confidence, knowing that our listener literally cannot abandon us and that the algorithm knows how to adapt according to our mood.
There are an estimated 4,000 people in Japan who are unofficially “married” to smart holograms that take the form of animated characters. Almost everywhere on the globe you can hear passionate love stories between humans and robots, one more incredible than the other.
Some experts are already predicting a logical continuation of this absurd phenomenon: in 30 years, virtual children entirely generated by artificial intelligence may appear in the Metaverse. These baby Tamagotchis will indeed be more affordable and much cheaper to maintain, with less long-term commitment. The emotional attachment will ostensibly remain the same and they will allow people who are single or unable to have children to become parents.
Hardly? Ridiculous? This remains to be seen. We are almost 8 billion people, and yet it seems that people have never felt so alone. In this hyper-connected world where virtual relationships have become commonplace, one will inevitably have to learn to live with “conscious” machines.
This makes us question the ethics of robots and their place in society. Already now they serve as our assistants and employees, others are used as guinea pigs, and some even work in the entertainment industry. What is their place in our personal life? What impact will intelligent automata have on human experience? Who knows, maybe someday these dialoguers will become full citizens…