Can AI based entities, be it androids, robots or any other man-made entity act as your companions, lovers or children? This will undoubtedly become one of the most widely debated topics as AI and neural networks become more and more developed to the extend of successfully emulating human emotions like love. While some of you will most certainly be against this proposal, there are many who’ll agree to it. To give you an idea of how AI could affect our lives in the future, here’s a short passage written by one of our best authors, comparing the pros and cons of this developing technology:
“It’s been exactly one year since the government gave the Sulcap Corporation the necessary funds to mass produce and distribute the Android series of robots, which utilize advanced artificial intelligence to behave just like significant others, be it boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives. The robots come fully programmed with a wide range of emotions that stimulates a human being with extreme precision and accuracy.
In addition to this, they are fully customizable so as to suit each individual person’s needs for looks. The reception to the robots has been overwhelmingly positive, in spite of criticism levied against both the government and Sulcap Corporations for introducing this technology to the people. The public, who claim that these robots are unnecessary and that they are encroaching too far into human lives, has staged many protests till date. We now take you over to what is perhaps the biggest one yet, in front of the Sulcap Corporation headquarters. Over to our news anchor, on the ground.”
Before the news anchor could speak, though, a deep voice shouted, “We will not allow Sulcap Corporation to have their way anymore! Today, the mass production of androids will come to a complete halt!” A loud crowd cheered behind him as they continued pushing against the gate of a massive building.
I rolled my eyes as I munched on a spoonful of cereal, the television set continuing to blare in the adjacent room. I reached for more milk as the news anchor finally spoke above the noise. “We are here now at the scene of the protest, and things are getting very heated up around here. Excuse me, sir, could I ask you a couple of questions? Firstly, why do you feel that the androids produced by Sulcap are problematic?”
I heard the man’s scream as clear as if he was standing right next to him all the way from the living room. “They’re unnatural and they’re meddling with an area of human experience that should not be touched by technology! Humanity cannot be completely overtaken by technology to the point where it decides our relationships and marriages! Emotions like love must be untouched with modernity; it started with dating apps, which was reasonable to a limit, but where do we draw the line? Is the next step becoming robots ourselves? The government needs to recognize that what they started was a disaster and a step back for mankind.”
Another loud cheer echoed from the tons of people gathered behind him, and the news anchor continued, trying to speak above everyone else. “Ever since the implementation of the androids to act as significant others for anyone above the age limit around a year ago, suicide rates have decreased drastically, and the birth rate has fallen back under control. The government has gone so far as to reduce the prices of the androids so that it’s more accessible to the people. What do you have to say to this?” My ears perked up as I heard this question, eager to see what the protestors had to say to this. I quickly put my bowl in the automatic washing machine, grabbed my bag, tightened the straps, and walked into the living room, only to see a middle-aged man speaking into the microphone. Surprised, I leaned against the wall, my arms folded, as he spoke.
“No matter the justification, I cannot, in good conscience, allow our society to become so dependent on a robot – a mere machine, to the extent that they lose grip on reality and lose sight of what it means to be together with other people. Replacing humans with androids like the government wants is merely a band-aid that only temporarily solves the problem of overpopulation.” Another loud cheer resounded, and I flinched from the amount of noise. As the news anchor turned to the camera and started to speak, the television suddenly shut off. I sighed and was about to leave the room when I heard a voice say, “Nathan? Come here please.” I closed my eyes, steeling myself, before opening them and walking into the dining room. “Yes, father?”
He sat in the chair, fiddling with the TV remote. He finally kept it to the side and looked at me with a somber expression, and it immediately threw me off. He spoke in a slow, somewhat hesitant voice, “I was thinking about something recently – for the past couple of days, actually.” I raised my eyebrows and said, “All right. What is it?” I tried to make my tone as polite as possible. His foot started tapping on the floor, which was something he always did when he was nervous. I narrowed my eyes as he continued. “Would you be all right with it if I got one of those…things?” Confused, I asked him what he was talking about, and he said, in a shakier voice than before, “One of the…um…the androids.”
The last word came out as barely a whisper, and as soon as I heard it, I stiffened. I clenched my fist and said nothing as my father watched me expectantly, waiting for my response. Eventually I said coldly, “To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of reaction you’re hoping for from me. Did you think I would happy? Relieved that someone, ANYONE will come along and do the job that you failed to do ever since Mom died?” My father said nothing as he stared at the floor. I shook my head and said, “If it will help you get off your ass and take responsibility, and if it will finally help you get over Mom’s death, do whatever you want.” With that, I turned around and walked away.
As I walked, I had the urge to turn back and look at him, but I resisted it. Instantly, I felt a pang of regret, but I shook the nagging feeling of guilt away and pushed the conversation to the back of my mind. I grabbed my scooter and brought it to the road before flicking the switch on the handlebar, activating the electromagnets on the wheels. ‘It’s amazing how even after all this time, using these things still gives me the chills. Technology really has improved a bunch, hasn’t it?’
I got on and typed the name of my school, Plainston High, as the bike automatically started moving. On the way, I stopped at a traffic signal, which happened to be next to an electronics store, and looking over to my right, the television set displayed a spokesperson from the company emerging from the building to address the crowd. He appeared to be attempting to placate them, but judging by his facial expressions and the constant interruptions, the protestors were having none of it. I thought to myself, ‘People must really hate the androids if they’re willing to go this far to stop them from being made. I wonder why they’re so against it though. I mean, its not like its been proven to be detrimental in any way, right?’
My mind flashed back to earlier in the morning, when my father asked if I would all right with him getting one. I shook the thought from my head as the signals changed and I continued on my way to school.
“Nathan! Did you see the news?! Can you believe its finally happening?! I have a really good feeling about this!”
I closed my locker to see Sarah standing in front of me, bouncing up and down enthusiastically. I said, “You’re talking about the protests, huh?” She nodded and said, “It’s incredible how so many people finally got their heads out of the clouds and realized how unhealthy and dangerous those robots are for us.” I raised my eyebrows at her and said, “So you think that these androids are bad as well, huh?” She looked at me like I said the sky wasn’t blue. “Of course! Don’t you don’t think so too?” I shrugged. “I don’t really care”, I mumbled. Sarah sighed and turned to her locker, putting her hand on the scanner to open the lock. I continued, “But if you look at the statistics and the general effect its had, I’d say its worked for the purpose it was created, hasn’t it?
So many more people are happy. Overpopulation is no longer a major concern, and suicide rates are lower than they’ve ever been.” Sarah looked at me, sighed and said, “You’re just repeating exactly what the government says every single time someone asks them about this. You’re not focusing on the real issue here.” Technology cannot invade every single aspect of our lives, y’know? Love is such a wonderful, complex emotion. How can the government think that having robots as companions replicates that feeling?”
I remained silent as I contemplated the nature of her question. Sarah turned around and said, “I’ll see you later, Nathan.” She walked to her classroom. I was about to call out to her, but the bell rang, and I realized that I had to make a run for it too, otherwise I would get kicked out of Math class. I ran into the classroom, where the teacher had just begun. I slipped into my seat and took out my notebook and began to write, all the while pondering over Sarah’s question.
“All right class, today, we’ll be discussing Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays what considered by many to be the quintessential story that represents ‘true love’. Now, who can tell me what love is?”
I brought my head up from my desk and looked at Mr. Bruce, who looked expectantly back at us. Looking around the class, I saw that many people looked disinterested, with more than half of them staring absentmindedly at the board or at their closed books. Some were even discreetly using their cell phones. I sighed and was about to raise my hand when Sarah beat me to it. She said in a clear voice, “Love is an emotion that no definition can do justice to. It’s un-explainable and cannot be defined by words, only actions and choices.” Mr. Bruce nodded and said, “Very well put, Sarah. You’re right of course – now, this very feeling of –”
“If love can’t be defined, how did Sulcap manage to create an artificial being that manages to do everything related to love a human can?”
Everyone turned around to see Justin, sitting upright, a bemused look on his face. Mr. Bruce looked puzzled and said, “I believe that the way that they did it is through the use of algorithms and programming. It’s a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo to me anyway, nor is it relevant to what we’re trying to do here. Now, getting back to the story, how Shakespeare represents – ”
Justin interjected again. “Sarah’s definition of love seems to imply that the robots do not do a good job of understanding what love is. Yet, the data and the response from the people show otherwise.” Sarah turned around and opened her mouth to retort when Mr. Bruce said in an authoritative voice, “All right, that’s enough! If you want to talk about the androids you can do it later, after class or perhaps in Robotics Club. This is English, not philosophy or science. Now, coming back to the story, how many of you have read it in any shape or form before?” A few hands went up, and Mr. Bruce sighed. “All right – in the class’s best interest, I’ll give you guys a brief summary of the story so that you know what you’re going to be examining in detail.”
To my surprise, I found the story captivating and engaging. The way Mr. Bruce put it, there wasn’t as much romance in the book to justify it having the title of being the quintessential love story, but pop culture and the Internet had shown me enough to figure out that the romantic elements in the story were far stronger than the summary let on. And of course, the entire twist of the story was an act of love. After Mr. Bruce was finished, Natasha, who was sitting behind me, said in disbelief, “So the two of them ended up killing themselves over each other based off a simple misunderstanding?”
Mr. Bruce nodded. “That’s one of the great twists of the play; one that gives it meaning and impact and takes the story from a simple romantic comedy to one of the most well known examples of the notion that love sometimes ends badly.” I nodded in understanding, as did the rest of the class. Mr. Bruce clapped his hands and said, “All right! Now that we’ve all heard the story in brief, we can move on to the analysis of the play in its entirety.” I brought a notebook out of my bag and was about to flip it open when I heard Justin’s voice emerge from the back of the class. “Mr. Bruce, I have a question.” I turned around, as did most others, as Justin spoke.
“Wouldn’t it be so much easier if one of them was an android? I mean if that was the case, then they would have known about the plan before they killed themselves and everything would have been fine.”
The entire class went silent at this comment. Even Mr. Bruce looked flabbergasted at what Justin had said, and he said shakily, “Justin, I really don’t think that such a query is rele-”
“HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT ONE OF THE GREATEST LOVE STORIES OF ALL TIME SHOULD BE INTERTWINED WITH THOSE STUPID ROBOTS?!”
The class snapped their necks back around to see Sarah standing up in her seat, panting heavily and staring at Justin. She continued, “Love isn’t something that you can dumb down to algorithms or numbers – it’s so much more than that! It’s about how people feel about each other, their shared experiences, their joy, laughter, sorrow, triumphs, victories, defeats, and so much more! The entire point of the androids is to replicate all that, but it cannot replicate that because it doesn’t have emotion behind it. And before you say that each android comes equipped with a chip that stimulates emotion, my answer is right there. STIMULATES. It’s not real. It’s a fake – a phony type of love that people trick themselves into having because they don’t want to make an effort to develop connections with actual people!”
The whole class went silent at Sarah’s outburst, and Mr. Bruce said slowly, “All right Sarah, thank you for that, but I’d really appreciate it if we could get back to the lesson.” However, before anybody could do anything, Justin stood up as well and said smoothly, “Just a minute, Mr. Bruce. I’d like to counter Sarah’s point here. You say that it cannot replicate the feeling of love because it’s artificial. All right, agreed. It is artificial.
But what would you say to the hundreds of thousands of people who bought one of these androids and benefited from it? Would you say that what they’re doing is wrong and unjust? That what they’re doing is immoral? If the androids are achieving the purpose of making people happy with their lives, who are you to say that they should not have access to them?” Sarah stared at Justin defiantly, definitely not backing down but also unable to counter Justin’s point. Justin shrugged and said, “Nothing against you personally, Sarah, but you can’t go around saying its immoral and its wrong when so many people are benefiting from it.”
“I’d like to say something.”
My gaze turned to my left, where David slowly stood up as well. Mr. Bruce sighed in exasperation and said, “You know, I really think we should do this another time.” However, David paid him no heed. Adjusting his glasses, he said, “I have an android. Her name is Amanda. I have a hard time talking about certain things in my life to other people, and I have a tendency to keep to myself. Amanda’s helped me a lot throughout school and I don’t know what I would do without her. Call it stupid and weird, but she comforts me and is always there for me. I think what the government doing is great for people because it keeps them happy.” Justin motioned to David and said, “See? What do you have to say that?”
To my chagrin, I immediately thought of my father, and how lonely he was now that Mom was no longer around. I thought back to the question he asked me in the morning, about whether I would be ok with it if he got an android. ‘Would things really be different?’ My thoughts were interrupted by Sarah’s voice.
“Be that as it may, there has to be another way. Love cannot be something that you can create or instill in a person using a machine. It has to be felt – not thrust upon someone.” I said in a matter of fact voice, “Although, Sarah, you can’t argue with James’ point that people are benefiting from it. Why should you stop them?” Sarah turned to me, shocked. “So that makes it all right? We’re talking about the principle of the issue here, not the effect! How can you take such a neutral stance to it?”
I was about to respond, when a flurry of voices flooded the class as everyone joined the conversation at once. I screwed my eyes shut as the voices overwhelmed me and I felt the urge to shout for everyone to just shut up. Thankfully, I didn’t have to, because Mr. Bruce did it for me. “EVERYONE, BE QUIET! Sarah, Justin, sit down! How many times do I have to say that we are here to discuss the play, and not the political or social ramifications of love robots?! Now, I’d very much appreciate it if we could get back to normalcy. We don’t have a lot of time left so let’s make haste. Now, turn to the first page of the play. Richard, can you start out the class by reading…”
School after that was mostly uneventful, with the only interesting event happening from then on being gym class, where Justin nearly pegged everyone in virtual archery. I was walking over to my scooter when I saw Justin arguing with Sarah under a tree, presumably about the androids. I sighed and paid them no heed as I activated my scooter and sped away. On the way back, I noticed a couple walking down the road, deep in conversation. On closer inspection, I realized that the girl was an android. An overwhelming feeling of curiosity overtook me, and I immediately drove off to the side, stopping the scooter near the pavement and rushing towards the couple.
“Excuse me, sir. Can I ask you a question?”
The man turned around and looked at me. “Why, certainly, young man.” I said, “Um…does it bother you that, and I mean no offense sir, your significant other is….?” I let the word hang in the air, hoping that he would understand what I was trying to say. However he looked very confused. I sighed and tried again. “Does it bother you that a machin-” I caught myself, a little shocked at what I was about to say. I continued, “the person that you’re with, isn’t really…well….human?” I winced at the last word, expecting the man to get mad and lash out at me.
Instead he chuckled and said calmly, “On the contrary, it doesn’t bother me in the least. Gracia here is a lovely companion and she is such a dear.” To accentuate his point, Gracia looked at me and said in a surprisingly normal voice, “Pleased to meet you. I am Gracia, Norman’s wife.” I gulped and continued, “If you had the choice to …um….have a human wife instead ….what would you do?” He looked at me in bewilderment and asked incredulously, “Now why on earth would I do that? Gracia is the perfect wife! She takes care of me perfectly, I love her.” Gracia nodded along with him.
I looked between the two of them, wondering what made the man so fixated on this android and trying to comprehend how the relationship worked. Sarah’s voice kept flashing through my head and I found it impossible to ignore. Finally, I said, “Okay – thank you! Bye!”, as I hastily went back to my scooter and started it, driving it all the way home. As I rode back, in my mind’s eye I kept seeing that man and the android doing all the things that normal couples would do, like going to the movies, having dinner, and taking walks. It seemed….unnatural, to say the least.
‘But who am I to deny people who get happiness from it? Taking them away isn’t the answer either! Is there a middle ground to all this?’ My mind seemed to be racing a million miles an hour and I shut my eyes tight, trying to just forget about it all for now. When I reached home, I parked the scooter and ran up to the stairs, feeling very tired and hungry. I was looking forward to doing nothing for the rest of the day as I hastily knocked on the door. I tapped the ground impatiently, itching to get inside the house and collapse onto my bed.
The door opened, and I immediately stood still, and simply stared at the face of my mother.