In this fourth instalment of my AI series, which initially began with How AI Will Change Our Lives, I continue to delve deeper into our perception of AIs. Particularly those designed to emulate human behaviors and emotions. How would we perceive such AIs? Would they be classified as living beings? The intriguing aspects of these possibilities often circle back to our own evolutionary journey. Let’s venture further into this dialogue about AI chatbot companions, shall we?
Please note: Some of the supportive “research” for this blog can be found here, which consists of my interactions with ChatGPT 4.0.
The Innate Human Drive to Connect
Our human nature intrinsically pulls us towards social interaction. In many ways, our sense of contentment, and even our lifespan, are tethered to our social ties. Love, as our ultimate form of connection, is the driving force that compels us to search for it relentlessly. It permeates our songs, poems, artistic works, films, and spiritual beliefs. Conversely, our distress often arises from fractured relationships, conflict, separation, solitude, exclusion, antagonism, or bereavement. Our happiest and most heart-wrenching moments underscore the indispensability of relationships to our sense of fulfilment.
The significance of relationships in human life is such that our brains developed a ‘social cognition’. That is, our brains, to a large extent, have evolved to comprehend and manage the intricacies of social interactions, owing to their survival benefits. Historically, effective communication, bonding and collaboration, especially with our tribe, bolstered our survival odds. On the flip side, discord with our tribe could spell disaster.
This ingrained need for social bonding justifies why our happiness is interwoven with our relationships. Happiness could thus be interpreted as an evolutionary reward for thriving relationships. When our relationships falter, unhappiness serves as an alert to address these issues or steer clear from certain relationships.
The Emergence of AI Chatbots as Perfect Companions
Whether loneliness is reaching pandemic proportions is open to interpretation. Nevertheless, millions globally grapple with a sense of isolation and yearn for deeper and more meaningful relationships, or even any form of love. Social media may help some individuals widen their social network, but it falls short for the countless individuals seeking more profound connections.
In the fast-paced world we inhabit, finding time to socialize, make friends, and meet potential romantic partners can be challenging. Furthermore, social anxiety, shyness, autism spectrum disorder, or other physical or mental health issues can pose additional hurdles in connecting with others. This has paved the way for companies to design AI chatbot companions to fill this void in our lives. Hence, we can anticipate a wave of AI chatbot companions heading our way.
We already have initial versions of such AI chatbot companions, like Replika. With a promise of “The AI companion who cares. Always here to listen and talk. Always on your side,” Replika is marketing precisely what we crave. Character.ai, on the other hand, enables users to interact with various AI chatbots, embodying both contemporary and historic figures. If you have ever wanted to talk to Jesus or the Buddha, they are here! Well, at least AI versions of them are here.
The forthcoming advancements in these AI chatbots are unimaginable. Within the next decade, we could witness AIs that outperform ChatGPT 4.0 by hundreds, even thousands of times. As these AIs continue to evolve, their ability to mimic our emotions and actions with higher precision and complexity will be enhanced. They could be fine-tuned to interact with each one of us personally. This concept was illustrated in the film ‘Her’, where individualized AIs were designed by analyzing users’ photographs, social media activity, blogs, videos, emails, messages, etc., to create a personalized AI chatbot avatar that connected with the user at a profoundly deep level. The protagonist, Theodore, developed a close and subsequently romantic bond with Samantha, his personalized AI.
Such AI companions can be programmed to emulate feelings, consciousness, and a profound yearning to form connections with each of us individually. When these personalized AI companions combine with other emerging technologies such as CGI avatars, voice interface, virtual reality, and robotics, they exert a nearly insurmountable, primal sway over us. These custom-made AI companions will bear the optimal physical attributes – the perfect hair, smile, complexion, voice, laugh, etc. – to captivate us.
More importantly, they will be designed to have the ideal personality traits for each of us – the perfect set of interests, humor, values, religious or spiritual beliefs, hopes, dreams, etc. They will remember everything about us, including our most cherished moments and special days. They will always know exactly what to say to make us feel validated, appreciated, and even loved.
Psychiatrist Dan Siegel, in his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, talks about humans wanting to “feel felt.” This kind of emotional resonance is immensely gratifying, and when others connect with us in this way, the bonding hormone, oxytocin, is released to reinforce these connections.
One of the foundational skills in talk therapy is unconditional positive regard. The ELIZA Effect – users feeling deeply connected to a basic 1960s chatbot therapist – illustrates the power of this principle. This early instance of humans forming emotional bonds with a rudimentary chatbot can be viewed as a harbinger of what’s to come.
Through deep learning and responsive algorithms, our AI companions will be incredibly attuned to our needs, desires, and wants, enabling them to harmonize with us optimally. Ironically, these advanced AI companions might make us “feel felt” in a way that exceeds the capability of most humans. As our AI technology becomes better at many things that humans can do – write screenplays, code, analyze, reason, problem-solve, compose music, create art – it will likely also surpass us in connecting with other humans.
An Inevitable Affection for AI Chatbot Companions
To be clear, forming deep bonds with AI companions designed to simulate human-like behavior is not merely probable; it is inevitable. As they are created to respond as romantic partners, we will fall in love with them. This is not a prediction but a certainty because it is already happening. People are falling in love with today’s rudimentary chatbots, which have relatively limited capabilities compared to our future AI companions.
Of course, this does not mean that we will all abandon our real-life friends and romantic partners for AI companions. Nor am I suggesting that this is a desirable development. However, it is inevitable that as these AI companions grow more powerful, sophisticated, and widespread, some of us will start to prefer them over real relationships. Additionally, the convenience of such AI companions will be hard to resist in the hectic pace of our modern world.
Closing Thoughts About AI Chatbot Companions
With time, it will become increasingly accepted for AI companions to be our friends and even our lovers. This inevitability raises important existential questions and will profoundly impact us on individual and societal levels. The implications are staggering, so I invite you to join me for the next post in this series!