Future

Some of the ways AI is hijacking our emotional lives

Detail from the cover of Artificial Intimacy. Image provided, with permission from NewSouth books and the author.

What happens when our evolved human minds and old-fashioned cultures encounter the technologies of the 21st Century? Specifically. I mean virtual reality, robotics, and — most important by far — artificial intelligence.

This is the question I consider in my new book Artificial Intimacy: Virtual Friends, Digital Lovers and Algorithmic Matchmakers which hits the stores in Australia and New Zealand. Readers elsewhere will have to wait until the northern Spring, but can pre-order now.

The term ‘Artificial Intimacy’ has been floating around for a while, broadly describing how artificially intelligent machines are entering human emotional lives. I differentiate three kinds…


Opinion

What happens when computers know people better than they know themselves?

Does data really know better? Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

Science is an algorithm. To date, it might well be the most effective and useful algorithm — or family of algorithms — that humanity ever invented. Ever-improving methods for erecting models of how the world works and then testing those models against evidence make it possible to distinguish good ideas from bad. Step-by-step, humanity’s understanding of the universe, the world, and itself, has grown.

That understanding might face its greatest threat since Gallileo fronted the Inquisition. The Artificial Intelligence revolution could well overturn how good ideas are sifted from bad and subvert science’s ultimate goal of understanding.

The claim that…


A simple experiment exposes a world of implications

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay. License: Pixabay.

One of the many weird things about his pandemic is that humans aren’t touching one another nearly as much as before. Social distancing and self-isolation have confined touch to close relatives and friends. I’m on record as wondering whether, on balance, that’s a good thing. Especially viz-a-vis the handshake.

Yet it is well understood that without interpersonal touch it is difficult for people to flourish. The closest human relationships — between parents and children, siblings, friends, and lovers — all normally involve healthy physical contact. …


Published first in The Conversation as Sexbots, virtual friends, VR lovers: tech is changing the way we interact, and not always for the better

Narcissus by Caravaggio. c1599. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Twenty-first century technologies such as robots, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are creeping into every corner of our social and emotional lives — hacking how we form friendships, build intimacy, fall in love and get off.

In my recently-published book, I consider the possibilities, both terrifying and inspiring, offered by these “artificially intimate” technologies.

On one hand, these tools can help deliver much-needed support. On the other, they risk increasing sexual inequality, and replacing precious in-person interaction with less-than-ideal substitutes.

Three types of artificial intimacy

At first mention of artificial intimacy, many people’s minds may jump straight to sex robots: lifelike robotic sex…


Great article, Nir. I've been grappling with the smartphone-mood disorder issue, and its mediators like sleep and family time, in a lot of my writing. I think you walked the line very deftly here, and I appreciate the balanced message.

BTW: I'm Indestractible. At least, I'm a fan of your book, which I listened to on my long runs.


If you're not up for the 12 minute read, here are the highlights

Photo by Thomas Bjornstad on Unsplash

Last week I published a story about how sex and gender defy clean distinction but remain nonetheless worth distinguishing. It’s a long read. By no means long enough to cover the issues in any comprehensive way, but a bit of a commitment for the reader in a hurry.

I thought I’d give a brief list of the main points for anybody who is interested. I believe the topic is important. More so as I now notice that the practice of using gender when sex would be entirely more appropriate has reached epidemic proportions.

My aim isn’t to strip this complex…


They defy clean distinction but remain worth distinguishing

Happy Birthday to me! Image by: Rob Brooks.

In Australia, when you turn 50, you get a card and a present from the government. Well, the card is actually a letter informing you that you’ve entered a higher risk category for bowel cancers, and the present is a do-it-yourself kit for gathering a couple of small samples and sending them in for testing. The whole process, from simple instructions to custom-designed sample tubes, is really quite impressive. Only one step in the process confused me.

Question 4 on the ‘Participant Details’ form asked me, “What gender do you identify as?” The options were Male, Female, and Other. I’m…


One 2-hour session with a class focusses the mind

Photo: NeONBRAND on Unsplash

My Head of School turned to me, near the end of our annual chat about my performance and goals, and I could tell that I was about to be landed with a difficult job. “We have this new course teaching advanced skills to science and medicine students. One component is writing, and given you do a lot of writing for popular audiences, I want you to teach that component.”

One rule an old Professor taught me long ago is never to accept a request to do more teaching without appearing deeply reluctant, lest you appear willing to be given even…


An article Khandis Blake and I published in The Conversation

One of the first executive orders that Donald Trump signed was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy (also called the ‘global gag order’), concerning non-governmental organisations and abortion access. Donald J. Trump/Facebook

The views of women and men can differ on important gendered issues such as abortion, gender equity and government spending priorities. Surprisingly, however, average differences in sex on this front are usually small. Many women adopt social and political positions that favour men and many men favour women-friendly positions.

In our latest research we tried to make sense of this “paradox”. We did so by understanding how people’s politics and practices don’t just track what’s good for them, but also what’s good for their relatives.

Election campaign games

A mere three days after his 2016 inauguration, US President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico…


A study of 27,000 mice shows that it depends on which trait you measure

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Despite awful pop stereotypes about scientists slaving away to uncover monolithic truths about the universe, disagreeing only occasionally when a new theory comes along, reality turns out to be far more complicated. We scientists have to break problems down into smaller parts, dissecting one aspect of the observable world at a time. Occasionally, researchers working on different problems, or coming from different backgrounds, discover just how different they are and just how messy the reality they are observing can be. The encounter often undermines old certainties, and it can leave scars.

The study of sex differences is one of those…

Rob Brooks

Professor. Studies links between evolution, culture, econ & tech. New book: Artificial Intimacy: Digital Lovers, Virtual Friends & Algorithmic Matchmakers.

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