Saturday, February 15, 2014

Will software relationships replace people?

Some, like Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Tech company Oracle, see a trend that suggests it's a possibility:

Billionaire Larry Ellison Warns: Be Careful Of 'Relationships With A Piece Of Software'
[...] One man asked Ellison what he thought about the role of tech in our modern lives. Ellison said he was "disturbed" by how much time kids play video games, and what that could lead to. Here's what he said:

My daughter produced a movie called "Her." It's about this guy that gets divorced and is having a rough time finding a relationship until he meets this piece of software ... it's an artificially intelligent bot, that takes no physical form.

Here's a guy that's chosen to have a relationship with a piece of software instead of a human being.

That's one way it can go. You can say that's utterly ridiculous. But I am so disturbed by kids who spend all day playing video games. They've chosen a virtual self.

This weird thing where NFL says 60 minutes a day you should go outside? I know I was a kid a long time ago, but if the sun rose, I was outside on my bike and if my parents were lucky, I would be home before dark.

The fact that people have chosen games where there's a virtual ball rather than a real ball ... that's because [games are] easy. It's very hard for me to be LeBron [James]. I was pretty good at basketball, I'm still not bad, but I'm not LeBron. Now everyone gets to be LeBron in virtual reality. But in reality only one guy gets to be LeBron.

Where does it all end? "Her" is kind of the next thing. What about virtual relationships, where your virtual partner just keeps telling you how great you are?

I won't tell you how the movie ends, but it's amazing: Be careful about virtual relationships with artificially intelligent pieces of software, that are gradually getting smarter than you are.

The truth is, the future that Ellison describes is already here. Virtual girlfriend apps are all the rage in Japan right now.
The mention of the "Virtual girlfriend apps" was a hyperlink, which lead to this:

I ‘Dated’ A Virtual Girlfriend For A Week To See What All Those Japanese Guys Are So Excited About
[...] After reading stories about the game Love Plus and how there are Japanese men who would rather date virtual ladies than real ones (one man even got married to his on-screen girlfriend), I wanted to test out what it would be like to date someone who isn’t real. I wanted test how well a gamified relationship stacked up to real life, whether I could find love — or something like it — amid the pixels and 3D animation.

Love Plus, a Nintendo DS game, is only available in Japan, so I browsed virtual dating apps in the Google Play Store. My Virtual Girlfriend was the most popular.

Here’s how the game works:

The author, a woman, tests out the virtual girlfriends extensively. Follow the link for details and screenshots. At one point, she concludes:

[...] It's easy to scoff at this game for being stupid, over-the-top, and kinda sexist.


I’ve been in a real relationship for almost a year and, in some ways, playing My Virtual Girlfriend reminded me of what my boyfriend and my early dalliances felt like.

It took time and effort to progress through the levels and if I closed the app and ignored my lady for too long, she needed some sweet talk before warming back up. Starting something new isn't easy. Plus, all the girls responded differently to different things and getting to know them proved surprisingly challenging at times.

Some action-reactions were obvious, but others less so. Tell Jen a joke? She hated it. Ditto with complimenting her eyes, though admiring her smile got her to waggle her hips and giggle at me.

And her thought process was more nuanced than I would expect. After I “gave blood” to raise money to take us on a date, she chastised me for being too broke. So, when I earned the option to flash my cash later in the game, I thought I'd try it since she clearly valued money. But instead of offering her signature giggle, she just looked revolted, quickly rebuking my attempt to win her heart with money.

Unsurprisingly, she also hated my catcalling and, well, picking my nose lowered my love score too.

Unlocking new options and figuring out how to prevent my girlfriend from getting outraged and breaking up with me made me feel like she and I were growing closer, even though she was just following an algorithm. But, despite the fun, gamefied challenge of the relationship, I could never see myself developing actual feelings for any girl in the game.

Admittedly, My Virtual Girlfriend can't hold a candle to Love Plus. In that game, you have to work your way through a more complicated romance (there are only three characters with very fleshed out personalities and you start by meeting them in school). The girls can respond to your actual voice and you can kiss the screen to show affection. But, try as I might, I just couldn't find anything with more in-depth capabilities than My Virtual Girlfriend. [...]
The author talks about another program she found, that was more sexual and creepy. She said that a program like the Japanese Love Plus, isn't available in the West, probably because of cultural stigma. There may be a stigma, but for how long? Many Japanese things have crept their way into our culture. I wouldn't be surprised if "Love Plus" makes it's way here too.

She ends the article with a brief but interesting interview with creator of the "My Virtual Girlfriend" program.

Another aspect of The Brave New World is here. Are you ready for it?

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