In November 2018, 35-year old Akihiko Kondo married his “bride” – a virtual reality singer named Hatsune Miku. None of Kondo’s relatives were among the 40 people who attended his wedding to Miku — an animated 16-year-old with saucer eyes and lengthy aquamarine pigtails — but that didn’t stop him from spending JPY 2 million on a formal ceremony at a Tokyo hall.
“I never cheated on her, I’ve always been in love with Miku-san,” he told The Japan Times.
Since March 2018, Kondo has been living with a moving, talking hologram of Miku that floats in a USD 2,800 desktop device.
He considers himself an ordinary married man. According to a report in The Japan Times, his holographic wife wakes him up each morning and sends him off to his job as an administrator at a school.
In the evening, when he tells her by cell phone that he’s coming home, she turns on the lights. Later, she tells him when it’s time to go to bed.
He sleeps alongside the doll version of her that attended the wedding, complete with a wedding ring that fits around her left wrist.
Kondo’s marriage might not have any legal standing, but that doesn’t bother him.
With popular shows such as Westworld and Humans and movies like Blade Runner rife with human-AI relationships, it’s a concept not unknown to many of us.
Another popular humanoid robot is Sophia the Robot, who was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia in 2017. According to AI consultancy service Becoming Human, on its website, Sophia is created by Hanson Robotics, who writes in her Instagram bio: “Robots should have equal rights as humans.”
The feature on the website argues that while there’s been a heated debate as to how many of Sophia’s lines are fed to her and if she actually comes up with any on her own, there’s no doubt that she is the most visible humanoid robot in current culture.
But all of this begs the question of the hour: Can AI fulfil us emotionally to the point where we form a true emotional connection and begin valuing it as much as we would if it were with a real human?
According to the report, when it comes to gleaning deep emotional fulfilment from or forming a genuine connection with AI, it would seem that it’s not to be found in anything remotely humanoid at this point. Intelligent assistants such as Google Assistant and Alexa continue to populate more and more homes — and they also continue to evolve. A quick search of Google Assistant convos show that it is often a great deal wittier than many humans.
Emotional connections with AI currently lack a certain depth. But that very may change.
The Guardian notes, in a recent article, that a mobile phone game called Mystic Messenger, developed by Cheritz, a South Korean game developer is a mix between a romance novel and Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, in which a man develops a relationship with a Siri-like character.
The primary aim of Mystic Messenger is to pursue a romantic relationship with one of a number of characters in the game. To cultivate intimacy with these virtual beings, one talks to them via a text message. But these developments in technology signal a retreat from human relationships. Oscar Schwartz, who wrote the article notes that the most dedicated romantic gamers do not see their interactions with virtual characters as a substitute for human companionship, but as a new type of digital intimacy.
Taking part in a chat himself, Schwartz notes that Part of what made Mystic Messenger compelling was the fact that it ran in real time. This meant that once started, if one stepped away from the game one would miss out on vital conversations and lose track of where one stood with your virtual friends. Schwartz’s report describes the many conversations he had with virtual characters and those in real life who spoke to the robots. And rather like in
Her, when the virtual character falls in love with an intelligent assistant, one of the people he interviewed for his story noted that her virtual character felt needed and wanted. Ultimately, to each their own.