Artificial intelligence and virtual reality have been raising many somewhat controversial questions since people started using them. Today, these technologies are an indistinguishable part of all aspects of our lives—even the most intimate ones. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, society’s dependence on technology became more evident than ever.
To fully understand the pros and cons of this dependence, we need to distinguish between different kinds of artificial intimacy. First, there are algorithmic matchmakers (aka online dating platforms). They are similar to the so-called virtual friends; this category includes therapy apps, chatbots, and even AI assistants such as Alexa.
The final and the most problematic type are digital lovers. These are not just sex robots but also AI-enhanced sex toys and VR pornography. Digital lovers pose the greatest threat to the in-person contact people depend on, being social beings.
Recent research indicates that people used to spend around 192 minutes a day involved in in-person interaction with their friends and acquaintances before smartphones, social networks, and dating sites entered their lives. Now, people spend almost 153 minutes on social media every day.
Social media, especially apps that communicate with their users through machine learning, are potentially beneficial for people who struggle with loneliness. However, it is a matter of time before they become capable of leading a natural conversation and replace our human friends (and the need for making them) altogether.
While these are serious matters, artificial intimacy is not all that bad. Different chatbots, virtual assistants, and apps provide companies for those who are alone, and there is an expanding market of therapy bots that provide mental health support for those who can’t afford therapy. It may not be as good as the in-person experience, but it is undoubtedly better than no help at all.