The ideal husband, according to Midjourney
In the movie “Her” the Joaquin Phoenix character develops a relationship with an AI during a messy divorce. Released about a decade ago, the movie addresses philosophical themes about personhood and relationships that at the time seemed interesting in a philosophy class thought experiment way, but not really relevant to our day-to-day.
Well, I just got access to Chat-GPT’s new voice function, and we’re there now.
Admittedly, it does still pause before answering, but besides that there’s very little that would distinguish it from a real human being. The staccato-like speech that characterized previous computer speech is completely gone, and you can all-too-easily forget that you’re talking to an AI.
Today while washing dishes I talked to it about what I would need to do logistically to pull off an Arctic trip I’ve always wanted to go on, earlier this week I did missionary “door approaches” on it, and later we had a ten minute conversation in Spanish. Overnight most of the world got access to a personal language tutor in whatever language they want, and Star Trek’s universal translator is now a reality.
But in the aggregate I am more concerned than anything, especially as the father of sons I want to raise to live a gospel-patterned life. In the same way that pornography can displace real sexual relationships, AI chatbots have the potential to displace real emotional relationships, aggravating the personal relationship crisis we’re in. In the same way that in a pornographic relationship there are no stretch marks, no wrinkles, and there is no wooing required, in a digital relationship somebody can access an always eager, erudite, charming companion who never tires, never gets moody, and never has conflicting personal needs or any of the thousands of little things that “flesh is heir to.”
Like many, I’m personally acquainted with the stereotypical drifting, unattached male in his mom’s basement that isn’t really going anywhere; who is interested in a relationship in theory but isn’t really willing to put forth the energy to make it happen or to make himself appealing enough as a man to attract a woman. This isn’t going to help. Thankfully (IMHO) unlike in “Her” all the voices are pretty typical; they don’t offer a sultry Scarlett Johansson voice as one of the options, but we all know where this is going.
And it’s not just a guy thing. For those who think people would never get into having fake, digital relationships, they already do. Men disappear into their porn, women into their romance novels (and yes, some men with romance novels and some women into porn), and both are developing standards that the other one can’t possibly meet. And now the pornography and romance novels can talk back.
In sex work there’s a theme called “the girlfriend experience” where the client not only wants a physical relationship, but also a simulacra of an emotional one (and once again, this isn’t just guys, with women from developed countries engaging in sex tourism and developing faux relationships with some hot young man in Barbados that can shred cheese with his abs). While right now AI romantic partners are limited to niche corners of society, I doubt it will stay that long as they become more uncannily lifelike. Far easier to suspend disbelief in exchange for not having to deal with the messiness of a real relationship.
I always thought it was weird when the YM and YW made those lists of what they wanted in a spouse and it had oddly specific traits like “piano player,” as if our partners were our personal chefs, intellectual discussant, musicians, comedians, designer, organizer, geisha, sex worker, etc instead of a Wife or Husband. Flesh of my flesh. We’ve been drifting towards the model of marriage as a means to satisfy individualistic ends for a while now instead of a collective homage to something greater than the sum of the individuals, but the former is just not sustainable, and I think that marriage will increasingly become the domain of those that anchor it into something more than their own individual utility. If the point is to have an individualized comedian you’ll always find somebody more witty and funny, same with all the other list items that in theory are the composite total of our ideal partners, and in the coming years they won’t even necessarily be flesh at all.