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Professor: Loving a Robot Is Healthy Because of…Evolution

David Klinghoffer

A Japanese company, Gatebox, evidently felt that Alexa from Amazon isn’t disturbing enough as something to have around your house. They’ve gone several steps further with a diminutive virtual “wife” in a glass tube, a holographic cartoon character, Azuma Hikari. Motherboard summarizes:

Hikari was created to be a “comforting character that is great for those living alone.” The purpose of this cutesy anime character, blue hair, mini skirt, knee high socks and all, is to “do all she can just for the owner” — also referred to as “master.” It seems designed specifically to appeal to lonely bachelors.

In this ad, Azuma wakes her master up in the morning, notifies him of the weather (“Take your umbrella”), and even coddles him with emotional support. During the day, while he’s at work she texts him things like “Come home early” or “I can’t wait to see you.” When he finally gets home at the end of the day, she’s already made sure all the lights are on and jumps up and down inside her little glass frame, exclaiming “Missed you, darling.”

Azuma’s character even comes with her own profile. She’s 20 years old, likes donuts, dislikes insects, and her dream is “to become a heroine to help people who are working hard.” She’s also shown as wearing a wedding ring — needless to say, Gatebox plays up the virtual stay-at-home wife role Azuma is meant to embody.

Watch the video of a young man — actually, he looks like a very young man — in a series of sketches from a day in his “relationship” with the character.

If that, the whole pathetic quality of it, doesn’t make you want to cry for the young and pitiable man, there’s something wrong with you.

Writing at Aeon, and referring to Azuma Hikari in her tube, a professor, John Danaher, assures us, “Robot relationships need not be kinky, exploitative or fake. In fact they might give human relationships a helpful boost.”

Is this a welcome development? A number of critics have voiced their concerns. They claim that relationships with robots would be fake and illusory: perceptual tricks, foisted on us by commercially driven corporations.

Let’s set aside some obvious worries that are probably best not to explore in a family publication. (Danaher is the co-author of Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications.) How about what would seem to be the transparent phoniness of foisting on lonely males the misconception that they are in a genuine relationship with a creature of AI? Over at Biologic Institute, referring to Danaher’s article, Doug Axe asks in a tweet, “How about the fact that when we look at a human we see one of us, and we know what it’s like to be one of us? A robot has no first-person perspective.”

In growing and developing your healthy love for a robot, that would seem to be a major stumbling block. Danaher, interestingly, handles this with a pass to evolution. He offers two reasons why we might doubt there can be a “meaningful relationship” with an AI robot.

(i) [B]ecause the robot has a different developmental origin to a human lover and/or (ii) because it is ultimately programmed (and controlled) by others, who might have ulterior motives, there is no reason to think that you are in a meaningful relationship with it.

What he means by (i) is that a robot is programmed, and consequently, as Doug Axe puts it, “has no first-person perspective.” Algorithms rarely do. But are robots unique in being “programmed”? Not if evolution accounts entirely for human origins, thinks Danaher:

But (i) is difficult to justify in this context. Unless you think that biological tissue is magic, or you are a firm believer in mind-body dualism, there is little reason to doubt that a robot that is behaviourally and functionally equivalent to a human cannot sustain a meaningful relationship. There is, after all, every reason to suspect that we are programmed, by evolution and culture, to develop loving attachments to one another. It might be difficult to reverse-engineer our programming, but this is increasingly true of robots too, particularly when they are programmed with learning rules that help them to develop their own responses to the world. [Emphasis added.]

This is the kind of “sophisticated” reasoning that only a professor could truly love. Robot origins and human origins are essentially the same since both were “programmed…to develop loving attachments.” I leave it to you to pick out the logical problems with this. For one, robots are intelligently designed by programmers and engineers. Are then humans, too, the products of ID? But design by an intelligent agent, in whose image we’re made, is one of the best reasons to think human beings have souls — a quality that no one (yet) attributes to robots.

Beyond this, I want to point out the magnet-like tendency of all the worst ideas in modern thinking to attract “evolution” as a support. Again and again, Darwinism is dragged in to prop up everything from scientific racism and eugenics to, now most recently, pseudo-marital relationships with AI-driven holograms. This is a remarkable quality for a theory that is simply, to quote its die-hard defenders, “a fact,” as “undeniable” as the law of gravity, or the heliocentric model.

Image: Azuma Hikari, screen shot, via Gatebox Lab/YouTube.