As both the early excitement and resistance to chatbots subsides, they take a growing and practical role in the lives of many. As with many technology-led advances in society’s understanding, treatment and support of people, bots could soon help out when it comes to companionship, mental health and into old age.
Today, bots are mostly about the drive to a customer-centric model for businesses. They eliminate hold queues, dole out practical information, help find answers, and, where data is available, run between 80%-95% success rates. Not a bad start, while helping reduce business costs and enabling startups to handle large numbers of customers without the usual costs.
But, these early generation bots are more egalitarian and social creatures than many give them credit for. Around the world, they help students settling into a new university. They help people who don’t want to talk to a person discuss their mental health, and through virtual assistants are fast becoming chatty home bots to people who spend more of their time alone.
Bots help people who don’t want to talk to a person discuss their mental health
And through logical extension, as the industry picks up speed and the bots get smarter, we will see girlfriend and boyfriend chatbots take the place of dating apps or chat lines, and, yes, there will be sex bots.
Bot, I Think We’re Alone Now
Japan is the most technologically advanced nation on earth, yet a recent documentary horrified many. It highlighted the plight of the alone and old, the unemployed who fear social stigma and others trapped at home. Millions of Japanese living in tiny apartments with next-to-no communication with the outside world, to suffer what is called a lonely death.
As Japan’s working generation gets older, bots and virtual assistants could help avoid this situation in future, allowing people to communicate with an AI that can help with their needs, provide advice or help and encourage them to engage in some semblance of a social life.
This chatbot could become your best friend https://t.co/4NsZ2SkFiv
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) May 24, 2018
In the vibrant west, we might think such a scenario unlikely, but across Europe and America we see the rise of the bedroom generation, people who are always online but increasingly alienated and afraid of the real world. With increasingly grim political situations in many countries, who can blame them?
These people are more easily engaged by bots, and as AI advances will likely find their soul mate in a digital construct. A chatbot or virtual assistant can be molded into the perfect partner, one who can chat at their level about the games they play, the places or dreams they want to see, and “bring back” news from outside in a format that is palatable to them.
Online gaming, social media and forums can be a hostile place. And while young people can have a wide online family, they face the same betrayals, loss of trust and lack of faith in any real-world relationship. A bot can be that forever, or this month’s flavour, of friend to help people feel secure while the AI vendors can “sell them” as a way for families to engage in a safe way with members who they may feel are slipping away or disengaged from real life.
Chat Dirty to Me
All of which brings us to the next level of human relationships. Can a person love a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend? In reality, people have playing dating games, visual romantic novels and adult date simulators for years. These are the modern equivalent of rude etchings, saucy Victorian novels or 1930s erotica. Along with apps like Tinder and Match.com, they are just the latest way for people to find or express love for something.
A chatbot advanced enough to pass or skirt around the Turing Test could easily help someone feel a little love, digging into social media history to find mutual topics of conversation. Why limit a bot to ordering the milk and paying bills, when it could recite poetry, tell jokes or whatever the user wants. This goes beyond the sad nerd image to helping people trapped in modern convenience marriages or relationships have a little spark with their AI, perhaps evolving to something approaching love and affection.
A 3D date rendered to near-lifelike by modern graphics technology can bring visual desires to life. Those services, likely charged at a premium subscription, with enough big data behind them could engage with virtual dates, romantic weekends “away”, with all the scenic video, food photos and more, perhaps for those who fear travel or real relationships.
As AI becomes more rounded, they might even expect to share a little of the love among their family or human masters. Rather like pets, they might want to share more in our lives, to go on a journey to the shops, or be taken out to play with the kids. Why wouldn’t a home security monitoring bot want to see and take an interest in what’s growing in the garden, or watch the neighbours pass out the front window, a perk of the job as it were.
And, as the lights go down in the evening, bots could also be there. The porn industry is always running neck-and-neck alongside technology, we have 3D interactive VR porn, and adult phonelines have moved on to adult chat or video calls. Imagine the porn industry’s first full-on virtual girlfriend experience backed up by a database of glamour stars vital statistics, their likes and needs, best sound effects or dance routines, whatever the customer desires.
It won’t be the domain of porn sites for long. Not far behind that will come the mainstream dating sites who can promise to build the perfect virtual boy or girlfriend for customers, to while away the hours while they wait to meet the real Mr. or Miss Right. These bots cover the spectrum of interaction, whatever the user is most comfortable with, from text on a screen, digital voice to the full-on mad professor’s dream, like Harmony, the Sex Robot.
As the concept of the nuclear family continues to decay, all these and more ideas are probably in the research labs right now. It won’t be long until very smart AI can help keep people company, meet their emotional needs and perhaps more.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.