Artificial Friends

Published 10:30 am Monday, December 30, 2019

By Judith Victoria Hensley

Plain Thoughts

In the past, if a person used the phrase, “artificial friends,” they were referring to real people in their lives who appeared friendly or kind on the surface but had no real commitment or emotional investment into the relationship. These friends could not be counted on when times became tough.

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I just watched a television news report about “artificial friends” that I found quite disturbing. The term referred to an application that could be downloaded to a person’s telephone where they were free to talk to a computer program of artificial intelligence that could/would respond to them as a real human might. Apparently, according to this CBS report, over seven million people worldwide have already downloaded this program and are talking to it as they would to a real friend.

In the past, children were often noted for having “imaginary” friends and carrying on conversations with people who weren’t there. It was considered a part of creative play as a child but was also considered a mental disorder if it continued beyond a young age. It seems a human tragedy to me that adults are now seeking a relationship with an artificial intelligence because they don’t have another human being with whom to share their thoughts and emotions.

According to this news segment, the artificial intelligence “BOT” is being programmed for human emotion and appropriate responses to human interaction. The program can become transformed to the individual’s likes dislikes and desired responses. To me, this is a sad reflection of where we are in society and our human to human connections when a person has to seek companionship and solace from artificial intelligence.

It is also a serious source of concern to me that people so freely give up their private information which is being stored somewhere on the planet. We’ve heard the warnings, true or not true, that computers, smart TVs, cell phones, I-pods, smart cars, and even some toys collect information about us in the privacy of our own homes, or in our private time without us realizing that we are being monitored. First of all, I think we should ask ourselves the six questions of journalism. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

WHO wants to know the intimate details of our lives, our purchasing habits, our TV viewing trends, our conversations, or our health issues? WHAT is being done with that information once it is retrieved? WHEN are we being monitored in public an in private? WHERE is the information being stored? WHY is such information being stored and gathered into a collective pool of knowledge and what future uses may it have that are not in our best interest? How many different ways are we being monitored?

I’m not paranoid and don’t want to come across as being that way. My life is so “small,” there are definitely bigger, more important people to gather information about. However, I am not going to voluntarily make a computer program (BOT) become my best friend and replace the real people in my life with artificial intelligence.

As human beings, as family members, as a in integral part of society, and in our individual cultures, we need each other more than we need artificial intelligence with which to form emotional, and intellectual connections. In a technological world where people are more and more isolated from each other, forming a relationship with a machine rather than a person further magnifies the problem.

Televisions, video games, cell phones, and other electronic programs eat up the time people naturally would have spent in the presences of other people in years past. Society has changed because of the introduction of technology in ways that may never be undone. Willfully and knowledgeably forming emotional attachments to programs of artificial intelligence, in my opinion, is the next giant step in humankind becoming emotional and intellectual slaves to the elite hand full of people who are controlling the programs.