Imagine if genuine and fulfilling love was only a matter of money. Something without the messiness and risk of rejection that comes from real-life relationships. Something that took only a few hundred dollars and a functioning internet connection to reach.
Last month, experts in the field of artificial intelligence visited Hillsdale’s campus for the Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar and argued for their vision of the artificial intelligence revolution. Topics ranged from the military to self-driving cars, in a field with near limitless possibilities. One topic, however, received almost no attention: sex.
It’s time we had a talk.
It might be awkward and uncomfortable to think about, but the future of sex and artificial intelligence has the potential to ruin human relationships. If we don’t do something about it soon, a new sexual revolution will change human love into a dangerous and bastardized parody.
As chronicled in “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?” a cover story in The Atlantic by Kate Julian, both men and women are opting out of romantic relationships. The reasons range from pornography addiction to an increasing fear of sexual abuse, but fundamentally stem from a simple reality: the complexity of human love. Men are deciding at an alarming rate that the unexpected demands of a real-life relationship pale in comparison to the instant gratification of the virtual libido. In addition, both men and women value their careers over traditional relationships. How can we afford to pursue romance when the job market demands a reinvention every six months?
Love is not only emotional and messy, it gets in the way of our goals. According to Julian, about 60 percent of adults under age 35 now live without a spouse or a partner and a third of adults in this demographic live with their parents.
Holding back these trends is the only thing the digital world cannot overcome: loneliness. There is still a tangible difference between a screen and another human person, a difference that even the most mentally fried porn-addict in the world can feel. Almost everyone eventually reaches the point where they decide between fully embracing a troglodyte lifestyle and risking rejection by attempting to go on an old-fashioned date. Sadly, that decision is becoming a lot easier, and not in a good way.
What if that screen wasn’t a screen, but a walking talking person tailor-made to your physical specifications, with the ability to react to your every mood with perfect understanding — the ultimate constructed partner, who possessed every faculty of humanity except its inherent imperfection.
Movies like the depressing “Ex Machina” and the underrated “Blade Runner: 2049” have shown us the potential for fully functioning AI partners, but the reality is surprisingly close. Most futurists predict that the “singularity,” the moment when AI surpasses human intelligence, will arrive in 2040. Machine learning is already allowing AI to synthesize surroundings and create robust responses to diverse situations, and the technology is improving by the day. Realbotix, a company based in California, is already testing and accepting preorders for a robot using primitive AI made explicitly for sex. The robots are still prohibitively expensive, costing upwards of ten-thousand dollars for basic options, making them outside of the average person’s reach.
Loneliness is only growing. According to a survey by the health company Cigna, Generation Z is statistically the loneliest generation in American history. They interact with their peers at record lows and exhibit depressive symptoms at record highs. Everything hinges on this fundamental human emotion. If the average person cannot find fulfillment in total romantic and sexual isolation, we will continue to seek out human relationships. The second an easier option presents itself, we will take it.
The relationship between sex and AI represents an existential threat — a threat that could spell the end of human interaction as we know it. Not only will it reinforce destructive views towards women by setting impossible standards, it holds the potential to combine with recent advancements in the field of in vitro fertilization and remove the need for human pairing. Futurologist Ian Pearson predicts that by 2050, the number of human relationships with robots will surpass those between humans.
In the meantime, we need to fight. It might seem strange or uncomfortable to discuss something as outlandish as sexual relationships with robots, but it’s coming sooner rather than later. Start having this conversation before it’s too late, regardless of how uncomfortable and squeamish it makes you. As the tech improves and the prices drop, many young people will give in to the siren call of the Realbotix slogan: “Be the first to never be lonely again.”
Shadrach Strehle is a senior studying History and Journalism.