In search of AI - Artificial Intimacy

Japanese school administrator Akihiko Kondo with a hologram of virtual reality singer Hatsune Miku at his apartment in Tokyo, a week after marrying her on Nov 4. Machines have not known the arc of a human life, says the writer, and they feel nothing
Japanese school administrator Akihiko Kondo with a hologram of virtual reality singer Hatsune Miku at his apartment in Tokyo, a week after marrying her on Nov 4. Machines have not known the arc of a human life, says the writer, and they feel nothing of the human loss or love we describe to them.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The recent wedding of a Japanese man to a hologram created a buzz worldwide. In the age of Siri and growing numbers of lonely singles and elderly people, will robots be adequate life companions?

Years ago I spoke with a 16-year-old girl who was considering the idea of having a computer companion in the future, and she described the upside to me. It's not that the robot she'd imagined, a vastly more sophisticated Siri, was so inspiring. It's that she'd already found people to be so disappointing. And now, for the first time, she explained to me, people have options.

Back then I thought her comments seemed prescient. Now I find them timely. "There are people who have tried to make friends, but stumbled so badly that they've given up," she said. "So when they hear this idea of robots as companions, well… it's not like a robot has the mind to walk away or leave you or anything like that."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'In search of AI - Artificial Intimacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe