My Wife and I watched the old Sci-Fi thriller “Blade Runner” again this week. In the movie Harrison Ford’s character is a man who hunts down androids gone wrong, a Blade Runner. The android in this futuristic world has become “more human than humans”. They have replace human companionship and human worker bees. By then end of the movie Ford’s character actually falls in love with and escapes with one of these androids. ‘Android love’, it is now a theme that has played out in many books and movies. But most often it is the robot or android falling in love with the beautiful woman or young inventor. As you watch such a movie some part of you says that people will never really allow robots or androids to replace human companionship long term.
As I was driving to work listening NPR a lady came on talking about humanities new relationship to robots. The person being interviewed was MIT professor Sherry Turkle (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/11/134448276/Social-Robots-Raise-Moral-Ethical-Questions). She explained that a second kind of robot is starting to emerge today. These robots are not just doing tasks, but they are starting to serve as human companions. Robot Babies are comforting the elderly in nursing homes. Robot nannies are watching children. This is happening now.
The odd thing to me was that her interviews say many people actually prefer the idea of a robot as a companion. The consistency and simplicity of robot relationships is very appealing to people today. This Sci-fi idea is no longer fiction. People are falling in love today with computers and robots that are obviously manufactured and can only bear some resemblance to humans or even some single human trait. What happens when they are as real as they are in our science fiction? Don’t kid yourself… That day will come.
What about that twenty something man who can have a female companion that takes care of him in every way waiting for him at home every night? She meets his every need and he does not need to put any effort into the relationship. No talking. No chores. No one asking him where he has been. Beautiful and without blemish. In fact if he gets bored with her he can simply replace her with a new model who can automatically know all his desires. All the respect and physical pleasure he desires with no relationship required. How many young men you know would resist that?
What about the woman who can have a man who lives just for her and wants nothing more than to make her happy. He waits at home longing to hear what she has to say. He is programmed to be as good of a listener as Oprah and has all of the right answers of Dr. Phil. He meets every physical need, but his only physical need is that she be satisfied. He always wants to snuggle, but is OK if that is all that happens. He is a great protector and she never worries about attack when he is with her. He wants to go dancing. He loves to spend time with her friends, but only with her there. He is better looking than any man she has ever known because he was literally made for her. How many young women you know would resist this?
Relating to humans is messy. However I believe that replacing human relationship with the perfect manufactured response will become creepy. I am sure that people will use these machines to fill a need. We do now. I don’t see that being a long term solution for most of us. It will become odd and just feel wrong. We will still long for real ‘messy’ human contact. The moral question at the root of this all is what damage we do to humanity by using machines to avoid the messiness of human relationship. What are the ramifications of this on our relationship with God when we are the creators of our own ‘perfect’ companions? What does this say about what ‘perfect’ means in a relationship? Do we really crave the perfect manufactured response or are we programmed to long for the complexity of real relationship?