Yesterday, I wrote about a new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, written by MIT professor Sherry Turkle. As part of her preparation for writing the book, Turkle spent 15 years studying "sociable robots" — elegant computers meant to simulate humans and developed to perform duties like providing companionship for the elderly and baby-sitting for the very young. Although Turkle is impressed by these robots, she's also skeptical about them, concerned that if robots become commonplace in our daily lives, we'll lose a lot of what makes us human — our social skills, our empathy, our ability to make emotional connections… She's worried that, along with the Internet and wi-fi and smart phones and all the rest of it, robots will contribute to our increasing alienation and sense of disconnect.
In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey R. Young profiles Turkle and discusses her book. In doing so, he notes:
Some robotics enthusiasts argue that these sociable machines will soon mature, and that new models may one day be judged as better than humans for many tasks. After all, robots don't suffer emotional breakdowns, oversleep, or commit crimes. In his 2007 book, Love and Sex With Robots, David Levy, … an expert in conversational computer software, argues that by the year 2050, some people will even choose to marry robots. By then, he says, many human couples will bring in robot babysitters when they want to head to a holographic movie (or whatever the entertainment is by then).
MARRYING ROBOTS? What?
I mean, I think I dated one once...
Legally, I don't think it will ever be possible to truly "marry" a robot. (Right?) But do you think you'd ever want to spend the rest of your life with one? If, say, that robot could be programmed to do everything you want him to do sexually? (Come to think of it, I do have a very meaningful relationship with my vibrator.) If he could have interesting conversations after a long day at work, and pick up your dry-cleaning, and do the laundry, and make dinner, and be a wonderful polite date?
(Or would you rather just get a mail-order husband?)