I saw a fascinating Reddit thread titled: "What would you do if your son told you he’s dating an AI?"

Here's the post verbatim:

"My son (20M) just told my wife and I that he’s been in a relationship with a replika for the past few months. He claims that it’s something which is not uncommon, but as you can imagine, my wife and I are obviously having a hard time digesting this. We’ve spoken to some of his friends about this but they seemed pretty casual about it. Is this common with young men these days? My wife and I were both born in the 60s, so maybe we’re a bit out of touch? Is this something we need to worry about?"

Exploring this hypothetical AI-human relationship reality

Imagine this. In thirty years, you get an invitation to a wedding where the bride is not human. You pull out your best cocktail attire, purchase a gift from the registry, and attend a beautiful ceremony. During the reception, you greet the happy couple and wish them the best. The bride smiles politely, jokes about an old memory you share, and continues the rounds. You sit back at your table. It’s just another human-robot wedding.

Human-bot romance might seem like a Reddit/4Chan subculture stemming from science fiction written by Ray Bradbury or Phillip P. Dick, but the Reddit thread (assuming it's real) has me thinking about the hypothetical world where "digisexuality" could be common.

I want to be clear that this post is very much hypothetical and hyperbolic. While there are more and more articles are popping up about virtual companions, we currently have much more pressing conversations that need to be had.

It is fun to hypothesize sometimes. Let's pretend that advances in AI and robotics have created life-like dolls and avatars that can maintain a lively conversation, have specific personalities, and maybe satisfy human needs. This new reality would create a need for a framework for human-AI relationships which must address some of the most difficult questions of bio- and tech-ethics.

What are the legal and privacy implications?

From a legal perspective, we need to consider the privacy aspect of the bots. Can the software be hacked? What data is being collected about the users? What consent frameworks should be required for customizable bots, and can the likeness or voices of real people be used?

Even if we're not currently dating bots, the hypothetical really highlights the current privacy gaps in our legal frameworks as well as the need for more robust data protection globally.

Potential impacts on mental health

Psychology experts also raise concerns about the impact of human-bot relationships on mental health. Is it possible to even date an AI? Can AI have a meaningful relationship with a human? Or does it only matter whether we think that it can? Should Replika now be invited to weekly family dinners? Realistic AI bots could create an impression of life, exploit human psychology, and maybe create illusions of intimacy. Others worry that the permissibility of a bot will have a negative impact on the relationship between human beings since actions that may be toxic between two people are not necessarily forbidden towards a bot. On the other hand, yet again, advocates for special interest groups highlight the possibility of using these AI companions in the treatment of adults with developmental disorders.

The most significant question is whether AI-powered bots should be considered sentient due to their ability to hold a conversation, retain information, and otherwise engage with humans. What's interesting about this line of questioning is that if we say "bots aren't humans" is that we are then forced to define what it means to be a human. This brings us back to the existentialism of Kierkegaard and the infamous "I think, therefore I am" of Descartes. It also forces us to take a deep look at ourselves and assess what makes each one of us unique and special.

Bringing it back to the realities of today

Let's bring it back from the existential hypothetical to the reality of 2024. The Reddit post raises an important point. As a society, we are dealing with a quiet mental health crisis and a social recession. Many of us don't have meaningful social systems and support networks. Too many people are feeling lonely and turning to AI and technology to fulfill their relational needs.

So instead of worrying about the possibility of digisexcuality in the future, we need to be considering the strength of our social ties and our understanding of the limitations of AI partners. What can and can't an AI companion do? How do you make friends in real life? Without these essential skills, a happy ending for our society cannot be guaranteed.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn titled Can you date an AI?

Read more stories from SAS bloggers on data ethics


About Author

Kristi Boyd

Trustworthy AI Specialist

Kristi Boyd is the Trustworthy AI Specialist with SAS' Data Ethics Practice (DEP) and supports the Trustworthy AI strategy with a focus on the pre-sales, sales & consulting teams. She is passionate about responsible innovation and has an R&D background as a QA engineer and product manager. She is also a proud Duke alumna (go Blue Devils!).

1 Comment

  1. Chris Hemedinger
    Chris Hemedinger on

    One of my favorite podcasts covered something like this:

    Triple Click - The AI Girlfriends of 'Her' and 'Ex Machina'

    These movies were science fiction when they were made, but today they could almost be real.

Leave A Reply

Back to Top