Would You Marry a Robot?
I recently read an article in the Daily Mail, entitled “Would you marry a robot? Artificial intelligence will allow people to find lasting love with machines, expert claims.” The first thought that came to mind was why would anyone want to marry a robot? What could possibly be the rationale? Robots are so, well, robotic; what’s there to love?
Blow-up sex toys have existed for quite some time now, and even with the “advancement” of those into “realistic” silicone dolls, no one (well, perhaps a few demented folks) is seriously interested in “marrying” one of them.
Human beings are complex creatures; they frequently do things I don’t understand. Overall however, they tend to form attachments to living creatures. Living creatures have personalities and can interact with us in a manner that, at least up until now, non-living creations cannot. It is not uncommon for people to anthropomorphize their pets. I have read several articles over time concerning people who wanted to marry their pets; some ceremonies have been performed even though they had no legal standing. But for most folks, no matter how much they may love their pet, marriage is not even a fleeting thought.
Robots may be a different issue. As usual, Japan seems to be leading the pack in the development of realistic humanoid robots. Whereas this model, made by Toshiba and unveiled last year at CES, seems a bit, well, robotic, there is no doubt that she is more “lifelike” than a blow-up, or even a silicone doll. And as technology advances, we can expect them to become even more human-seeming. Here are a few more examples. Note that they come in male models as well.
Limited purpose humanoid robots already exist for specific purposes, such as dental training. While lifelike from the dentists’ perspective, I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to marry one of these. For one thing, they are pretty much just a head and upper torso, and really can’t interact with you much. Still, it is an indication of where the technology is headed.
The idea of special purpose robots, built exclusively for “human companionship” is not new. It has been around in science fiction for some time, and is being pursued by multiple companies. Here in the U.S. a company named RealDoll, which already manufactures silicone sex dolls which are extremely realistic looking, is in the process of developing an “intelligent sex robot,” that moves about and, using AI, is capable of interacting with you.
Customers for such products need not be looking for a sex toy. Many people are just looking for more conventional companionship; someone they can interact with. That is where the AI comes in, giving the robot the capability of learning from you; what you like, don’t like, and providing the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation with you. The robotic aspect allows the “doll” to move about and perform various tasks, such as preparing meals (robots are already doing this) and cleaning type chores (robots are doing this as well).
One of the sticking points thus far has been trying to get all the aspects into a single body, as well as trying to make that body as “lifelike” as possible. However, with the advent of cloud computing and high-speed, wide spread Wi-Fi, much of the processing can now be off-loaded and done remotely, greatly simplifying the problem.
So, even though the technology hasn’t quite arrived in a package you can purchase at Best Buy, let’s play a little “what if.” Let’s suppose we are a decade or two in the future. Let’s suppose that a lifelike humanoid robot is now a reality, and that such robots can mimic quite a number of human functions. Their AIs are good enough that you can carry on a conversation with them. As they “get to know you” they are able to key on your likes and dislikes. They have the ability to play games with you, like cards, or chess, or World of Warcraft. They can be witty. They can react to your mood. They can even cry.
How lifelike is “lifelike,” you may ask? Their skin is smooth and pliable; you can feel their “bones” under the skin. Their hair feels like real hair because it is real hair (or a lifelike synthetic). They feel warm to the touch. Their facial expressions and body language are what you would expect from a “real” person. They appear to breathe. Functionally, they are capable of performing a list of “chores,” from washing and ironing your clothes, to vacuuming your rooms and “tidying up,” to fixing your meals. The list of functions is long, and new aps can be downloaded to enhance your robot as you see fit. Updates are available on-line and on demand.
They can be customized to look exactly the way you would like them to look. They can be “anatomically correct” if that is what you want. In short, they can be the ideal companion. If they get annoying, you can simply turn them off. And if they get old or beat-up, you can upgrade them or trade them in for a newer model.
As for why you might want one…are you tired of spending your time chasing women (or men) at the neighborhood bar and never getting exactly what you are looking for? Hate the dating scene? Are you too shy to ask that girl or guy out? Does it seem that the cute ones, the ones you want to date never want to date you? Have you ever fantasized about having a particular movie star or famous person as a companion? Do you simply not have enough time or desire to engage in dating activities? What if you didn’t have to?
What if instead, you could simply purchase the “person of your dreams,” with the added benefit of their being a labor-saving domestic device as well? And of course – the ability to turn them off at will when you wanted to be alone? What effect would that have on you and society in general?
Already, with the advent of social media and on-line gaming, the need for face-to-face interaction with real people has lessened considerably. This would potentially drive that even further. Why should I date if I have the perfect “girl or guy friend” already at home? Why bother with a temperamental human when I can have the perfect companion who never gets angry, never complains, and always does exactly what I ask?
What if I want to have children? Well, I can always adopt. There is an app for my model that teaches him/her how to do diapers and all that other domestic stuff. For that matter, why bother with real children anyway when I can have perfectly “natural” looking robot children, who always stay the perfect age, that I can take with me when I want and put away when I am through with them? Who never talk back; never go through the terrible two’s or puberty. Who never act out?
And here’s the thing. If you are a guy, you can always change your mind. You can always find a woman to marry (at least in theory) and can start a real family if you like. If you are a woman however, things are more problematic. If you wait too long, you may not have the opportunity for real children – or at least not very many. What do you suppose this will do to birth rates in the U.S.?
Between those who elect to never have kids and those who start late, birth rates will plummet; they are already on the verge of doing so anyway. The only thing keeping our population increasing is immigration; we have already dropped below replacement birthrate otherwise, though not to the extent many other developed nations have.
So back to the original question, “Would you marry a robot?” I doubt it. Why would you? What would be the point? Many guys who live with a real woman never bother. As the saying goes, “why pay for the cow when the milk is free?” This would be even more so when it comes to a robot companion. What would be the advantage?
Since the Obergefell decision, marriage is no longer exclusively an institution primarily devoted to raising and caring for children. It has instead morphed into an institution for sexual enjoyment and secular benefits. For living, breathing human couples, this has significance – there are legal benefits to marriage between two people that they do not get by simply living together, no matter how committed the relationship may be. But what would be the rationale for marrying your robot companion? None of these benefits would accrue to such a relationship.
Inheritance would not be an issue. A robot isn’t a person, and can’t inherit. In fact, your robot would be something that your estate would have to dispose of when you die. While people have been known to leave their earthly belongings to their pet, at least that pet is alive. There would be no reason to leave your stuff to your robot. In fact I can’t think of any legal benefits that would be conferred to your robot by benefit of marriage. Surely your robot wouldn’t need to be on your health insurance, nor, since it is not a person – not even alive, could it possibly become your guardian, or have any of the legal decision-making status with regard to you, typically reserved for a spouse or member of the family.
None of the issues that apply, for example to gay marriage, apply to marrying a robotic companion. I can’t imagine that having a robotic spouse would in any way qualify you to claim “married filing jointly” on your tax return. And I can’t imagine that robot “children” would qualify for a deduction or “child tax credit” either.
Then again, what if the robot has a "job" and earns income? Would the robot have to file taxes? Should this then be considered "family income" and thus allow you "married filing jointly" status? Or would the robot simply be considered an extension of your earnings capacity and only count on your individual income? There’s an idea – buy a bunch of robots and have them work for you while you live off their income!
On the other hand, let’s suppose the marriage laws were changed and you did marry your robot. What if you want out of that commitment? What if you decided to “trade your robot in” on a newer model? Well, a robot isn’t really a person now, is it? It is a machine. Property. You can trade it in if you like. You can take it out, shoot it full of holes, and set it on fire if you have a mind to do so. It isn’t murder – it isn’t human. It isn’t alive. You trade your car, don’t you? You might even take your car to a junk yard, or push it off a cliff, or bury it in your back yard.
You might lend your car to a friend. You might lend your robot as well. You might make some money from your car by driving with Uber or Lyft. You might make some money from your robot too, renting it out as a domestic servant or even perhaps for “human companionship.” If you advertised your robot on Craig’s List as being available for “intimate companionship” for a price, would that be prostitution? Does that make you a pimp? Are you “pimping” your car when you drive for Uber?
It is illegal to have more than one spouse. Is it illegal to have more than one robot? Even if you could only “marry” one, you could still have “mistress” robots on the side. Robots can be programmed to not care if you “cheat.” Can you really "cheat" on a machine anyhow? And why should it be anyone else’s business what you do with your robots in the privacy of your own home?
What if your robot has a job as a nanny for another family (who for some reason decides not to buy a “nanny robot” or can’t afford one), and a member of the other family has sex with your robot? Is that rape? Have you been “cheated” on? Do you get to charge that family extra for additional “services rendered?”
Here is another scenario for why perhaps you might want one of these robots. A friend of mine brought in a “robotic cat” to work. It was lying curled up in a cat bed and looked exactly like a sleeping cat, down to the breathing motions. One of our coworkers suggested that it might be “cool” if, when her real cat died, she could take it to a taxidermist and have it stuffed in the same position with a similar mechanical device inside that would make it look as if her cat was still there, just sleeping.
Now suppose that you are married (or have a girlfriend or boyfriend) and are madly in love. Imagine that this person, for whatever reason, leaves you or meets an untimely death. What if you could get a “replacement” companion that looked and sounded exactly the same, and who’s AI could be tailored to act like him or her as well. What if it were a child or a parent, or someone else significant in your life? It may sound a bit macabre today, but I bet there are those who would purchase one.
So – would you marry a robot? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, I predict that someday the question will be upon us. And even if the answer is no – such robots will have a major impact on society at large and could possibly, taken to extremes, result in the collapse of the developed world.
UPDATE! - 16 March 2016 - "Companies Want to Replicate Your Dead Loved Ones With Robot Clones", Motherboard
Well, I guess replacing your dead loved one with a robot doesn't sound "macabre" after all! In fact, a prototype "replacement" robot, Bina48, has already been created as a "proof of concept". Taking it one step further, the plan is not to put an AI inside the robot, but instead to use what is referred to as a "mind clone;" a digital replica of your loved one's brain.
Terasem Movement, the company that made Bina48, expects that a more advance version of Bina might be marketed sometime in the cext 10-20 years at a cost of between $25K-$30K.
As one might have expected, Google, a company with a seeming excess of money to throw at projects of all sorts, is on board, filing patent papers last year for a cloud-based system that could host a digital "personality" which could be downloaded like any other app. Said personality could be a replicate of a specific human including that of "a deceased love one" or a "celebrity." Perhaps in the future, you will be able to make money by licensing your personality - assuming of course that your personality is of sufficient interest.