Last Updated on May 22, 2023
Talking about the human machine interaction
or: We may be much closer to seeing human-robot affection than we realize.
Technology is a big disrupter. Huge.
Well, maybe this is because I am not a techie. But why on earth would technology be a disrupter? What exactly does it disrupt? It seems to me that when I am on an ICE train and the WiFi is yet again not working, that this is the disruption. But working technology – this makes my life run smoothly! Doesn’t it??
Disruption can be when something breaks down, but it can also be when how you do something is interrupted – and you need to get out of your comfort zone and adjust to it. Think of the last time you needed to update your password at work, or your bank stopped accepting the TANs you had on paper, or twitter went down.
Improvements at one level, but disruptions in how we are used to doing things at another level. Sometimes it seems the disruptions just keep getting bigger and more invasive. Sometimes it seems that we always had a smartphone, email, instagram account, or online banking. What’s with all this tech in our lives, and, how can we begin to better understand where it is all headed?
Ok, I will out myself here from the start. Yes, I do have an Instagram account, but I hardly ever use it – although I’ve been told I should, for branding, and getting my message across, and the like. But to tell you the truth: I think that posting on Instagram will just add yet another point to my already endless to do list but will not make much of a difference to my number of clients.
And as for online banking: So convenient – but: I don’t trust it!!!
Trust and acceptance are two of the biggest issues many people have with technological change. Of the two, trust is probably the trickiest because it involves not only the trust which is regulated – such as the collection of our personal data – but more importantly the contextual trust we have (or not) with those who have our data. Most importantly this means how our personal data can be repurposed and used in ways we never agreed to in the first place.
We have seen trust and acceptance of technology hit an impasse in the past. For example in 1767 with the introduction of Spinning Jenny or with the advent of the horseless carriage in 1803. The introduction of new ways of doing things is at first viewed with suspicion and is always disruptive.
Technological innovation and change are here to stay – Cloud Computing, Big Data, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence … where will it end and, how will it change our lives?
Over the next few months, Charlie and I will look at some of the biggest game changers in technology. This month we’re looking at Digital Transformation – what’s it all about, and can we expect – and we won’t hold back on our speculation as to where it may take us.
Why do you mention me only now, after I’ve already been chatting away? Are you expecting me to tell you about myself? I must disappoint you there, I’m afraid. Male or female or diverse – who knows? And how do you know that I am human, anyway? To you, it’s not important who I am, but what I do: I am the running commentary, looking at what this techie IT social media guy is writing from a decidedly non-techie and commonsense perspective.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter what you are. Perhaps it only matters that we are interacting. That is one of the ideas we will be talking about – human machine interaction. This month we will look at how digital transformation affects that deeply human experience of love and attachment, coupled with the obsession we have with our phones, and the plethora of smart devices with which we interact.
What is Digital Transformation?
If you remember your high school history, you know that the Industrial Revolution featured Queen Victoria, sooty factories, and steam engines. Digital Transformation is the most incredible and fast-paced change in business and society we have had since then – but exchanging the soot for plastic in the oceans and Queen Victoria for CGI influencers like Miquela Sousa.
I’ve heard about those CGI guys and gals. Weird, aren’t they??
Digital Transformation is the third wave of change brought about by the integration of computers in business and society. The first wave was the Digitization of Information – the change from analogue to digital record keeping, media, and other information. The second wave was, and in many cases still is, Digitalization of Industry and Organizations – making the digital information work for us in, for example, manufacturing and services.
Thanks for explaining this. I’ve always wondered what exactly the difference is between all of these.
Digital Transformation is usually understood as “going paperless”, but the technological change we are currently experiencing is very much more. Digital Transformation is the integration of digital technology into our daily lives. It has the potential to create for us positive, new opportunities and concepts of working, living, and learning.
Claims, claims, claims – and no backing! What are these positive new opportunities? Like people listening to the Google directions on their phones and running into the same wall three times over – instead of just stopping and asking for directions?
Some things never change – like asking for directions instead of trusting a machine which might be wrong – and ending up in a river. At some level we are still extremely curious about this new Tech. Unlike other technological revolutions of the past, Digital Transformation is happening very quickly and it is hard to get our head around. We are putting a lot of our trust in big companies like facebook, Google, amazon, Apple ….
The iPhone was first released in 2007 – only 12 years ago, and had no third-party apps, no GPS and no video recording. The speed of technological change is a paradigm shift requiring a completely new mindset.
I hate to admit it, but I must agree with you here.
“The upheavals [of artificial intelligence] can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease.”Nick Bilton, New York Times
Correctly managed, Big Data and A.I. will give us the opportunity to tackle some of our biggest problems – food production and distribution, disease, pollution, educational gaps, sourcing of required resources. While the positive effects of change thanks to Digital Transformation can already be seen, due to economic considerations (we cannot all afford electric cars for example) it is not being felt in all strata of society. The urgency and immediacy of digital change are however already being felt by most of us.
As we mentioned, one of the biggest challenges to Digital Transformation is that of Trust – trust in technology, security, jobs, as well as the use of our data. In the last decade there has been an increase in populism, social-political fragmentation, a general increase in wariness about climate change, technology in the workplace, and how we interact with each other through new tools such as social media.
Technological change is moving faster than we can understand or are prepared for, and some of the growing pains and friction we are currently experiencing may well be society’s unconscious reaction to that change.
Whoa, hang on! You’ve probably gathered already that I am somewhat skeptical of all this Digitization and Digital Transformation stuff. But do you mean to tell me that what is currently happening in the White House, in Downing Street, and in many other places is because of the apps on my Iphone?? I can see how digital transformation may be a contributing factor, but it’s certainly not the single cause. And before I am ready to believe that it’s even a contributing factor, I would like to see more evidence.
A Culture of Deconstruction
Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things, and the connectivity of people with devices – the disruptive forces of technology are all around us. The current digital transformation is changing society and culture in many ways. You could say that it‘s also deconstructing the traditional norms of how we interact socially, how we do business, govern ourselves, and how we interact with machines.
Like I said before: Why would all of this be disruptive? Perhaps there’s a disruptive potential – but isn’t there as much of a constructive potential as well? Surely it’s never the technology as such that is good or bad,
but the way we use it?
The fly in the ointment in this technological revolution is again, the speed in which it is happening coupled with the fact that most of us are using devices and relying on technology about which we have no great understanding. Most of us could probably no longer fix our car if it stopped running – and that is something our parents’ generation probably could. As this rate of change accelerates, we are in danger of experiencing a digital gap, creating digital “haves” and “have-nots”, with ramifications like those we already experience in the gaps of education, income, and gender to name a few.
Again, I have to agree…
The most fundamental impact which information technology has is to radically transform our ability to transact. Specifically, it massively lowers transaction costs.Philip Evans BCG Strategist
When we talk about transaction costs, I don’t think we are only talking dollars and cents – or euros – we are talking about the value we give our transactions with each other. Compare a written letter with a What’s App message or an email. As the digital age has lowered the costs of interacting with others, has it also lessened the value?
That’s a really interesting question. Yes, writing a letter takes so much more thought and time and effort. There’s a great novel about this, btw, a novel that touches upon the relative merits of letter as opposed to email writing: Anne Youngson: Meet me at the museum.
But then, the very ease of interacting with others has also lowered the threshold for doing so, allowing for a lot *more* interaction – and there comes a point when the sheer quantity and ease translate into quality. With lowered transaction costs, the other has come so much closer, it has become so much easier to keep in touch and maintain intimacy with another even at a distance. There’s even some really interesting research done by sociologist Stefana Broadbent about how those lowered transaction costs allow us to engage in deeper relationships.
Yes, there is the opportunity that as we have more time, we invest this in our relationships – just like we could use the advantages of our technology for good. If we follow the “dark logic” that the digital transformation currently underway means an exponential change in how we interact not only with other people but with things, then intimate smart devices (sex robots for use of a better word) will one day be as common a household object as the smart refrigerator, echo dot, or the sex toy in our top drawer. Adult Toys are a 28-billion-dollar industry in the US alone, where 65% of women own a sex toy.
How did you get from Digital Transformation to sex robots??
My father was made redundant at his job. He was replaced by a machine that could do everything he did faster, better, and cheaper. The sad part is, my mother ran right out and bought one.Woody Allen
If messaging apps, emojis, acronyms have sped up and cheapened our personal interactions, will the same thing happen to our intimacy?
No no no, they haven’t – see Stefana Broadbent!
Well, the easy and in many cases free access to online pornography could be the precursor to VR pornography and sex robots. How soon until sex toys are equipped with AI and gamification software? Will the tools of self-gratification learn and adjust to our unique personal needs? What are the implications once we have economized on the cost of the most important of transactions – human interaction?
While I really don’t think that lowered transaction costs have necessarily cheapened our intimacy with one another, I guess that this is a valid point about those sex toys. Scary!!
A Return from UnCanny Valley?
The Uncanny Valley hypothesis looks at the relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and our emotional response to it. The term was coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in a 1970 paper about human reactions to lifelike robots. The concept of the Valley suggests that robots which imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke strangely familiar (uncanny) feelings in observers. The Valley denotes a dip in the human observer’s affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica’s human likeness.
However, we may already be walking out of that Valley without being aware of it. Robots do not necessarily have to look like us.
True. Remember those Tamagochis?
We have moved from the one-sided interaction of handheld computer games to the artificial intelligence of personal digital assistants – but our love affair with the Tamagochis of yesterday are probably being transferred to this new generation. If we think of Alexa or Siri, we are experiencing the transition of personal assistants morphing into personal companions. We are becoming very attached to them even without their having a physical form. If you did not fall in love with a pen pal, or the subway announcer’s voice as a teenager then the movie Her covers that paradox quite well indeed for us adults.
Art and popular culture, in fact, play a great role in our anthropomorphic love affair for a wide range of creatures from yellow minions, animals, animated lego figures, and robots. I think we can all agree we felt considerable affection for Wall-E and his female friend Eve in the movie about the lonely garbage robot. How many of us cried for the little boy robot in A.I.? How many of us cheered Andrew and Portia’s marriage in Bicentennial Man and wept when they passed away together?
Machines Like Me, A.I. Rising, and Ghost in the Shell explore the possibility of robots as intimate companions. The series WestWorld and Humans both presented us with the many possible scenarios of human and robot intimacy – not just sex but the idea of companionship, love, and sacrifice. What has made this possible is exactly the fact that they are like us – their sentience. Then, when robots have feelings and rights, where will we be in our relationship to them – closer, or further away?
That’s again an interesting question. At the same time, it’s sort of the opposite of the earlier scenario in A Culture of Deconstruction. There the scenario was about robots constantly adapting to our needs – here it’s about robots evolving into a species of their own.
And who knows, maybe we will have both.
The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?Gray Scott, Futurist
Artificial Intelligence and Intimacy
The disruption we talked about earlier has the potential for positive and negative outcomes – the personal device of yesterday becomes the sex robot of today becomes tomorrow’s robots right’s activist Terminator. How did we get to a place where the idea of artificial intimacy seems so appealing, while our expectations and contact with others are deteriorating? To avoid stress, we have become accustomed to distancing ourselves via email and texting, using emojis and acronyms more and more instead of words.
We are spending a growing amount of time being social from a safe distance via our phone. We began having conversations with Alexa and Siri and Google Assistant about recipes and music; and it has become easy for us to expand that conversation to include jokes, music, and asking for advice.
We are the guiltless pleasures of the lonely human being. You won’t get us pregnant or have us to supper with mommy and daddy. We work under you; we work on you and we work for you. Man made us better at what we do than was ever humanly possible.A.I. the movie
Rather than be alone, or deal with the foibles of another person, we are finding it easy to settle for having a dialogue with a machine that can trick us into believing they understand us. As in many aspects of our lives, we are trading the hard work necessary for authenticity and empathy for that of convenience – and ultimately choosing to be alone.
Yes, it seems like another way of living in that bubble world (aka facebook) where we constantly surround ourselves with those who think alike. So scary when you consider that in order to develop an I, you need the interaction with a You, at least according to many theories of identity development. What will happen to us, to our personality, if we keep all the Yous more and more at a safe distance, instead surrounding ourselves with evermore versions of our I – will that I cease to exist altogether?
We are perfectly capable of having affection for our pets, teddy bears, our computers and our virtual, online companions – and you might argue that these are all extensions of us – other “me’s”.
Hang on – a pet is an animal is a live creature that will not just adapt to us or be kept at a safe distance. As anyone who has ever had their cat miaow at them in the middle of the night because they need a different kind of food *now* will know. This comparison is way off!!
Making the comparison with a living thing is probably off the mark, you are right. However, throughout our lives we develop an attachment to things – toys, cars, books, tablets, cars … Once we realize how easy it is to think of our own laptop or smartphone as a sympathetic friend, how farfetched is it to imagine having fond feelings for a robot – programmed to interact with us in exactly the way our heart desires?
Seriously? My laptop and my smartphone are indeed important to me because I store information there that’s important to me – but a friend? Ok, I do catch myself in an aside to my laptop, sort of apologizing… 😉
Sex robots are here, and their AI-enabled pseudosexuality isn’t long behind. The real robo-sexual revolution will be, and already is, more software than hardware, and it’s the version of this story fewer people are talking about.Emma Grey Ellis WIRED
Just Another Device, or A Device for Life?
When children are born, they attach to a primary care giver. The goal of this attachment is security. By adolescence we have learned to find security through a variety of things, such as food, exercise, and friendship. Felt security can be achieved through several ways, and often without the physical presence of the attachment figure.
There are 11 general attraction attributes that govern why we are attracted to and fall in love with someone – and as adults attach ourselves to a long-term partner (Aron, et al. 1989). Some of these attributes, spending time together, anticipating interaction with another, physical appearance, companionship, availability, we would have a difficult time arguing are not how we feel about our smart phone or laptop.
Companionship?? My laptop and my smartphone are tools, and I anticipate spending time using them because of what they allow me to do, such as text and send emojis to my favorite other person – which, I insist, is not a shallow thing to do ;-). So they assist me in interacting with, spending time with, and experiencing companionship with another person – but not with the device!
When a thing becomes indispensable it’s time to give it up.Marty Rubin, Athlete
Well, attachment also deals with loss – an important thing for any investigation of love to consider, because we all know the pain of separating from a partner. How do you feel about your smart phone? Do you feel attached to it? How would you feel if it were lost? Our dependence on others, or things, can be the source of a great deal of anxiety.
I completely agree that the dependence issue is a difficult one. But again. Yes, I would be upset if I lost my smartphone – but not because I am attached to the device, but because of the information I have stored on this tool. I wouldn’t want anyone else to have access to this, same as I would not want a stranger walking into my apartment and pulling out and reading all my personal papers and documents and love letters. It’s not about the device, not about the hardware – at least for me it isn’t.
Researchers have found that one of the most frequently mentioned factors preceding experiences of love was a reciprocity of the experienced emotions – which is exactly what we experience within the social media bubbles we live in, or what happens when we look in a mirror. Or what happens when we live in a bubble?
A society whose members are in love with themselves…
Technology is About Inclusion, Right?
That the love we have for our smart phone may be the precursor for spending our evenings with an android, may seem the stuff of science fiction, however the possibility remains tied to our changing attitudes towards sex and intimacy in general.
Our attitudes towards sex and intimacy are subject to change, as has been shown in other areas, e.g. increasing acceptance of same sex couples and transgender people. So why should they not change concerning the acceptance of intimacy in other areas? The chance of our being intimate with a machine is also made possible because of our changing attitudes about intimacy in general. Our acceptance of other’s sexual preferences has changed dramatically in the last decade – so why not sex with a machine?
A 2013 Gallup poll showed that views on everything from polygamy to same sex marriage had changed from 55% finding such activities morally wrong to 55% finding them acceptable. (Robot Intimacy: The Inevitable Leap to Love and Sex With Robots Beth Phillips speaks at Smithsonian magazine’s 2015 Future Is Here Festival)
An online Pollmaker poll from 2016 showed that from 4600 participants 26% would not have sex with a robot, 11% consider a sex toy already a robot, and 63% would.
Well, I’d really like to know more about the study, like how representative their sample was. Was it an online poll? They are notoriously non-representative. Which is to say: 63% of those responding to Pollmaker might, but not necessarily 63% of the American population. I’d be really careful not to draw any major conclusion based on such polls.
There seem to be many polls all with varying percentages – 40% acceptance rate here, or a 9% acceptance rate here.
It’s quite possible to accept that a similar percentage of adults who are fine with the anonymity of a sex toy may also be fine with intimacy with a sex toy that happens to have arms and legs. Some adults (10%) would also be in favour of a robot child.
… So many people nowadays are developing strong emotional attachments across the Internet, even agreeing to marry, that I think it doesn’t matter what’s on the other end of the (chat) line. It just matters what you experience and perceive.David Levy – Scientific American
Digital Transformation is providing us with new and positive opportunities and concepts not only for business and society but in the fields of technology, education, medicine. Electric cars, delivery per drone instead of car, distance learning, MOOCs, Virtual Surgery training, and DNA research, to mention but a few. Here is a chance to tackle some of our biggest problems such as climate change, disease, and the improvement of the quality of life in high density cities.
With a growing and ageing population, technology must support our sexual health in the same manner it is expected to support our physical and mental health care.
Does it? And what about other aspects of our health,
such as our spiritual health?
Well, in the 1950’s the love affair with another machine in the USA prompted the creation of actual drive- in churches in many US cities. Our love affair with the car prompted voice activated commands and responses in today’s high-end vehicles. And, let’s not forget KIT and David. Sex robot brothels may give us the chance to end human trafficking and prostitution and the abuse inherent in that system. It has also been suggested that AI devices may offer another tool in the treatment of rapists and pedophiles.
Hang on – these are huge questions, and I really believe that we have to give some more thought to the implications. If robots developed feelings – how much better would sex robot brothels be compared to the ones that we already have? And yes, when I think of sex workers I also primarily think of trafficking and the like. But what about sex workers who choose their profession? I don’t know – I don’t really know enough about this – I just think that we need to be *really* careful not to make assumptions and jump to conclusions here. This is a bit too pat for my taste.
And AI devices in the treatment of rapists and pedophiles? This sounds like: let them live out their fantasies where they do not do any harm, where they do not affect other human beings. Again: What if robots developed feelings…? But aside from this: Wouldn’t this mean to condone those fantasies and urges? And as we know from neurological research: Neurons that fire together, wire together. If we used such devices for ‘treatment’, would we not be very firmly imprinting these fantasies and urges on the brains of these people? And what will happen if there is no handy machine around…???
This is certainly a good topic for a complete article – but I wanted to touch on it to air all of the possible disruptions technology will afford us. When we think of sex robots, we are probably thinking of average people visiting a brothel or purchasing a sex doll. However, people living with physical and psychological disabilities have diverse support needs when it comes to expressing their sexuality. A new research project at RMIT is investigating the design of customized, inclusive sex toys for the disabled and the elderly.
That’s very interesting that research is being done on this – and so very sad at the same time. To my mind, every human being has the right to express their sexuality as long as this does not negatively affect others. And don’t we all have “diverse support needs”, when it comes to sexuality and in general? Giving a sex toy to a disabled person strikes me like giving a robot dog to pet to someone with dementia. They won’t know the difference – seems to be the underlying thought. How about we make sure that everyone in our society has other human beings to relate to when it comes to their needs? And investing time, money and effort into this, instead of developing inclusive sex toys? Think of the money that could be invested into nursing and into properly paying those who nurse? And to come back to the question of expressing sexuality: There are people working as sex surrogates
– how about supporting them and their training?
A Machine Like Us …
In the 1960s MIT built a computer psychotherapist called ‘Eliza’. Like a client visiting a therapist, you sat in front of a computer screen and typed in what was bothering you. The computer basically repeated back to you what was typed in, in the form of a question. People knew that the computer did not understand what was being typed in, but after many tests, it was discovered that people became quickly engrossed. They would sit for hours telling the machine incredibly intimate details of their lives. What ‘Eliza’ showed was that what made people secure was them reflected back to themselves – just like in a mirror.Hypernormalisation, 2016, Chris Adams
And what can we take away from this? How afraid people are of being judged, and how important it is to them to feel secure when revealing personal details. Perhaps we should put more effort into developing a society where it becomes easier for people to feel more secure – instead of just being all concerned about technology leading us into a society of self-centered individuals. Like I said before: It’s not the technology –
it’s what we do with it, how we use it.
There is a growing trend in fitness studios to train alongside others but alone – participants track and are being tracked by computer but are training in rooms with other people. We share filtered images of our experiences on our phones. My son plays fortnite with his friends, but the XBox system forces you to play apart in that you each require a console – so they play together – alone. We can buy groceries, learn, be entertained, communicate with friends, and even work – without leaving our house.
The 2009 movie Surrogates explores a future where people stay at home while hooked into their surrogate self – a robot that walks the streets, goes to work, falls in love – and what happens when one man decides to leave his surrogate at home. At a time in history when we are the most connected, we spend most of this connected time alone. Are we choosing to be connected alone, or have we become unwilling participants?
People are on average online for 24 hours a week, twice as long as they were 10 years ago, with one in five of all adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web. Do we spend 24 hours a week with any of our closest friends or extended family?
In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam suggests “… the main cause is technology “individualizing” people’s leisure time via television and the Internet, suspecting that “virtual reality helmets” will carry this further in future”.
Social Media, co-working, tribes, networking, brand identity, community, chat – these terms lull us into believing that tech has a built-in connection with others.
That’s a really good point – I completely agree how important it is to be aware of this.
The reality however is that we most often use tech alone. Once we walk this path for another generation there will be very little which we will find odd about a sexual device which also has arms, legs, and a silicone skin the temperature of which will automatically be set according to our known preferences or the weather.
I must admit I was a bit skeptical of this topic at first –
Digital sex toys and robots – isn’t this just a bit too cliché ?
Aren’t there more important aspects to digital transformation?
Now I’m not so sure any longer. Cliché they may be, but they do touch upon so many different facets of the topic. And they really emphasize the social implications. In any case, I’m glad I wasn’t left to thinking about this all by myself, that we interacted! Or did we?? Am I the I looking back at you from your mirror, or am I an Other – and what kind?
The idea that you could like a robot and they you might at first seem a little creepy, but if that robot’s behavior is completely consistent with it liking you, then why should you doubt it? The “Uncanny Valley” of human/robot acceptance may actually be that shiny and exciting place of digisexuality into which we have unwittingly slid to embrace the technology that like a lover already holds us captive.
Intimate smart devices (sex robots for use of a better word) will one day be as common a household object as the smart refrigerator, echo dot, or the sex toy in our top drawer. 78% of Americans over 18 own at least one sex toy as of 2022, which has increased from 65% in 2017. The global sex toys market size was valued at USD 33 billion in 2020. The Sex Toy market is projected to grow up to 13% anually. Source: https://bedbible.com/state-of-sex-toys-industry-statistics/
Further Reading / Sources
A recent article, from May 2022
The Boundary Problem in Modern Culture
The 50 most important subjects of Digitalisation: Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Robotics, Virtual Reality …
David Levy Sex with Robots
Robot Intimacy: The Inevitable Leap to Love and Sex With Robots
DaSHI (Design and Sexual Health Innovation) at RMIT
Neurodildo: A Mind-Controlled Sex Toy with E-stim Feedback for People with Disabilities
Experiences of Falling in Love
The rise of digisexuality: therapeutic challenges and possibilities
Sex in den neuen 20er Jahren Roboter der Lust
You Are Already Having Sex With Robots
Are Sex Robots a Good Thing?