Human-Computer companionship is becoming commonplace. People have speculated about what the nature of their relationship with computers might be like in the future for decades. science fiction authors warned of dangers that might occur if robots began to become too human, while business leaders hailed the potential of computerized companions as labor saving and beneficial to people ranging from chemists to housewives. Other voices in the media warned about robots completely taking the place of humans.
Still others voiced disgust at the idea of romance between man and machine. In 1985, Dan Gutman of the Cincinnati Inquirer predicted that “Lonely people will start talking to their computers for companionship.” In fact, he suggested, “Some nut will try to legally marry his computer.” Gutman’s prediction proved to be accurate.
In July 2016, a Utah Man named Chris Sevier made headlines by suing a county clerk for the right to marry his computer. “Whatever a person has sex with, they can bond with,” he told news outlets. Although Sevier’s suit may be political in nature – he compared marrying his computer to gay marriage, seeming to suggest that gay marriage was an illegitimate form of marriage – others seem to have real romantic feelings for their machines.
In 2009, a gamer known as Sal9000 chose to marry a virtual girlfriend, Nene Anegasaki, instead of a real woman in a ceremony witnessed by friends and family. While his marriage is not recognized by Japanese courts, Sal told news outlets that it was a sign of his devotion and suggested that his marriage was better than the marriages of those who opt to marry human brides. “She doesn’t get angry if I’m late in replying to her. Well, she gets angry, but she forgives me quickly.” He also said that his relationship with Anegasaki was so satisfying that he did not feel the need to pursue other women.
But human-computer interaction in weddings isn’t only confined to virtual weddings. Humans also make user of computers when planning weddings to each other. Julie Jacko and Constantine Stephanidis, in their book Human-Computer Interaction, for instance, note that couples use computers to create a digital image of their dream weddings, so that they can help friends, family and others involved in the planning process visualize their ideas and give feedback on them. Computers can act as collaborative tools in wedding planning, and can, in this way, help bring about lasting partnerships between humans.
They also help facilitate other kinds of human love. Depression is common in nursing homes. It is also, regularly overlooked and mistreated. However, robots are helping humans cope with this disease. In Japan and Europe, therapeutic robots like Paro simulate real animals and allow the elderly to interact with pets, even though they cannot always care for live animals properly.
Now, similar pets are coming to the United States, with Hasbro’s For All Brand offering companion dogs and cats, designed to comfort adults who are aging. The cat is designed to be realistic, purring when stroked, while the dog tilts its head when its owner speaks and can even bark. Other companies have created multiple species and breeds of pets. Japan’s National institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, for instance, has created a cuddling robotic seal.
Scientists are hoping that interacting with robotic animals will help the elderly recognize the same benefits they receive from interacting with real animals, namely: increased opportunities for exercise, greater opportunities to socialize, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. Preliminary studies suggest that it can.
The elderly are not the only people who can benefit from interacting with computers. Children with autism an also benefit from interacting with robots. One, in particular, called “Leka”, a ball-shaped robot with an “endearing” face that is capable of a whole host of expressions, is designed to help children with autism learn to understand social cues and to help them learn via lights and sounds. Since children with autism often respond positively to repetition, but caregivers who are not autistic sometimes tire of repeating the same directions time and time again, Leka can take over this responsibility to help autistic children thrive. It even allows parents to adjust the level of stimulation provided to their child’s individual needs.
While once, the idea of marrying a computer seemed preposterous, today, the idea of computers as companions seems normal. While marrying computers or robots is still extraordinary, the idea of using computers as companions is often a relief to human beings. People use computers, not simply as human substitutes, but as social teachers, who can help them overcome social obstacles and help them interact with one another better. Computers help them express the ideas they have about their relationships to others, allowing them to see one another’s dreams.
When people use computer, themselves as their companions, they may benefit physically. Doing so may lessen depression, encourage them to be more active, help them socialize or even lower their blood pressure. While one, human-computer relationships were viewed fearfully by science fiction authors, filmmakers and audiences, we are now beginning to view them in a much more favorable light.
Indeed, people rely so much on computers, whether they are interacting only with them or using them to interact with other people, that it is possible to say that they have fallen in love with them. Perhaps marriage to computers isn’t so outlandish after all.
- CNN. “Robot pets offer real comfort.” 19 October 2016. CNN Japan. Internet. 16 December 2016`.
- Gutman, Dan. “Voice Activated Typewriter More Than Just Talk.” The Cininnati Enquirer 28 April 1985: E-8. Newspaper.
- Illinois Council on Longtime Care. “Recognizing and Treating Resident Depression.” 2013. Illinois Council on Long Term Care. Internet. 16 December 2016.
- Jacko, Julie and Stephanidis. Human-Computer Interaction: Theory and Practice. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Book.
- Lah, Kyung. “Tokyo man marries video game character.” 17 December 2009. CNN. Internet. 16 December 2016.
- Scheidell, Dora. “Utah man suing for right to marry his computer.” 1 July 2016. Fox 13. Internet. 16 December 2016.
- Weisberger, Mindy. “Robotic Toy ‘Leka’ Designed for Kids with Autism.” 13 May 2016. Livescience. Internet. 16 December 2016.