Everybody is familiar today with the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and most are also aware of the possible risks and dangers it might pose to the world, from mass unemployment to the emergence of a super AI that may destroy humanity or keep us as slaves. But horrible as these fears are, perhaps there is something even more chilling on the horizon. AI is increasingly being used to influence and determine the most precious and intimate aspects of what makes us human – our emotional and sexual lives. That’s the intriguing subject of a new book titled ‘Artificial Intimacy‘ by evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks, that’s set to be published worldwide in September. The author uses evolutionary science to explore the idea that AI and digital technologies are changing the nature of our intimate relationships and, according to his thesis at least, not always for the better.
I haven’t yet read the book (it does appear to be available already in Australia), but am obviously eager to get my hands on it, as I’m sure followers of this blog and anyone else interested in digisexuality and the future of sex tech will be. I’ve been reading a few blurbs and interviews with the author, and aside from the subject matter, two things stand out for me that make this look like a compelling must read. Firstly, the author is quite a well respected evolutionary biologist who has published the well-received and award winning ‘Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That book was praised by the famous evolutionary biologist Geoffrey Miller, and this one comes garnished with plaudits by none other than Steven Pinker. Secondly, unlike most writers on sex tech, Mr Brooks doesn’t appear to compromise the objective search for truth for reasons of political correctness or a wish to avoid uncomfortable subjects. For example, in a recent article for The Conversation, he almost directly refers to the issue of ‘incels’.
Matchmaker algorithms are already transforming how people screen and meet potential dates.
Apps such as Tinder aren’t really effective at matching compatible couples. Instead, they present photographs and minimalist profiles, inviting users to swipe left or right. Their algorithms allow people of more-or-less comparable attractiveness to match and strike up a conversation.
One problem with this model is attractive people have no shortage of matches, but this is at the expense of ordinary-lookers. This type of attraction-based inequality feeds serious problems — from heightened self-sexualisation among women, to a surplus of young, unpartnered men prone to violence.
Rob Brooks sees applications such as Tinder as ‘amplifying sexual inequality’. This is one category of three ‘artificial intimacies’ that he considers as potentially problematic, and he names it ‘algorithmic matchmakers’. The other two categories he calls respectively ‘digital lovers’ (which includes sex robots, VR porn, and cyber sex), and ‘virtual friends’. The latter covers AI companions that we build an emotional attachment to, whether it be Siri or a character in a video game.
Although the book evidently does extensively discuss potential problems created by ‘artificial intimacies’, it doesn’t appear to be a completely negative look at technosexuality either, and the author suggests that a well-managed synthesis of digital lovers and virtual friends, could provide solutions to those deprived of real-life intimacies.