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In a future world where your fridge can talk, your mobile is your best mate and your toaster really gets you, Nicola asks – could we be friends with our technology?
The year is 2017, and every tech magazine reporter worth their bitcoin is housed up in a conference hall in the middle of the Mojave Desert. They’re here amidst the flashing pinball lights and coin-guzzling slot machines of Las Vegas’s strip for CES, the world’s largest annual Consumer Electronics Show. It’s here that tech industry giants come to showcase the very latest in home-based electronics.
“Impressing journos with her increased functionality, Alexa gave a small glimpse into a future where technology embeds itself ever further into the fabric of our lives.”
This is a time when the curtain to the future is pulled back and we’re offered a glimpse of what will one day – when the price tag eventually falls – be finding its way into our daily routines. Along with paper-thin television screens, self-driving cars and smart fridges programmed to order you a fresh pint of milk the moment the last drop disappears; one of the most notable advancements are those in the field of AIOS (artificial intelligence operating systems) – think Siri and Google Assistant.
Tech companies are currently ploughing millions into the advancement and integration of AIOS. For example at CES, Alexa, Amazon’s AIOS voice assistant – rival to Apple and Google – was everywhere. The U.S. e-commerce giant had aligned Alexa with a number of devices, including home sound systems, cars and even fridges. Impressing journos with her increased functionality (she’s able to order you dinner and send you to sleep with intuitive music selections), Alexa gave a small glimpse into a future where technology embeds itself ever further into the fabric of our lives.
Fiction meets fact
But could that deepened reliance on our virtual assistants ever evolve further than a computer-slave dynamic? If science-fiction is anything to go by, then quite possibly. From Hal in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Spike Jonze’s 2014 near-futurist love story, Her, the disembodied voices of AIOS have captured creatives’ imaginations in all manner of science-fiction masterpieces. But when it comes to engaging in a real, productive conversation with our AIOSs, the chat levels are lack luster to say the least. Friendship-wise my Siri would struggle to find directions to a restaurant, let alone have enough anecdotal arsenal to get us through the first course.
Asking your fridge to keep on top of your dairy products and change your mood lighting is one thing, but having a tete-a-tete about the pressures of modern living is quite another. The gulf between our current AI assistants and the sentient, conscious computers we see depicted in science fiction is wide. And subsequently, the notion of forming a real connection, with all the idiosyncrasies that make relationships so unique, seems less likely than Donald Trump confessing his undying love for Rosie O’Donnell.
But perhaps human-to-tech friendships are a lot closer than we think.
Developments in this field are happening so quickly, that scientists and ‘natural-language developers’ have predicted AIOS technology will become so personally nuanced, so tailored to our individual needs, likes and characteristics, that the possibility for real friendships to develop with our technology might not be too far of a stretch.
Google is on track to build a computer that can understand natural language and human emotion by 2029.
Inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, currently working with Google on its X Lab projects, has hinted that Google is pretty close to achieving a computer able to respond to natural language and display human emotion by 2029. In fact, he told tech blogger Jimi Disu in December, that an intelligent, friend-like assistant could be in our pockets in as little as four years:
“Right now, search is based mostly on looking for key words. What I’m working on is creating a search engine that understands the meaning of these billions of documents. It will be more like a human assistant that you can talk things over with, that you can express complicated, even personal concerns too. If you’re wearing something like Google Glass, it could annotate reality; it could even listen in to a conversation, giving helpful hints. It might suggest an anecdote that would fit into your conversation in real-time.”
iRobot, Take You Human…
So in 2029, could we expect a new series of Friends filled with humans sipping coffee with their tablets?
Well, if Google has anything to do with it, then yes. In fact, in a bid to advance their AI assistant’s fluidity and speech complexity, they embarked on a mission to make it read over 2,865 romance novels. The result? They turned it into a post-modern poet, and possibly a huge fan of Jilly Cooper.
But, even if AI technology were to develop in a way that meant we could chat, laugh, question and interact in a fully human-like way with our AIOSs, we as humans are still wholly aware of the man-made nature of our digital friends. Perhaps that will mean we’ll always be in some way distanced emotionally from our tech. That being said, if every AI sounds as articulate and alluring as Scarlett Johanssen’s character Samantha in Her, I’m sure people will find it hard to resist.
So while the possibility of being close-knit buddies with our pocket assistants is a relative unknown, for now we’ll just have to make do with this lovely piece of computer-generated poetry, penned by Google’s AI poet in residence:
“no,” he said.
“no,” i said.
“i know,” she said.
“thank you,” she said.
“come with me,” she said.
“talk to me,” she said.
“don’t worry about it,” she said.
it made me want to cry.
no one had seen him since.
it made me feel uneasy.
no one had seen him.
the thought made me smile.
the pain was unbearable.
the crowd was silent.
the man called out.
the old man said.
the man asked.
he was silent for a long moment.
he was silent for a moment.
it was quiet for a moment.
it was dark and cold.
there was a pause.
it was my turn.
there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry.
i turned to him.”