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The video above is a concept promo for one of the scariest products I have ever seen. Some of you who have started the video are assuming that I’m paranoid that the machines will grow enough intelligence and understanding to unify and rise up against humanity. Or maybe that I’m worried that the data it collects on the intricacies of your daily life will be hacked and used against you.
It’s much worse.
The EmoSpark scares me in it’s proper working form. This isn’t artificial intelligence, we already have that. Siri is smart enough to set timers, reminders, appointments, search for data on the web and play music when I tell her to. I don’t even hold it against her that she can’t figure out how to pronounce name of the band The XX, so I find myself (as patiently as possible) repeating the phrase “Siri, play The kstk kstk” until she understands. But, she does understand. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t enjoy the music with me – that’s why the intelligence is considered artificial. EmoSpark is taking AI a step further: To Artificial Emotion, and that is dangerous.
We are already seeing the effects of constant over-stimulation in our culture. Over-stimulation is the concept that something always needs to be happening, or you’re bored. Television isn’t enough, so sit in front of the TV and tweet about what you’re watching, so that you can text about what you’ve tweeted and then use snapchat to show your friends what scene the show is on, because you’re watching it on Netflix knowing that you can’t stand the endless monotony of three minutes of commercial interruption. And, just to be clear, that example only demonstrates that you’re a true victim of over-stimulation if you’re STILL BORED while doing all of those things.
Artificial Emotion (AE) is dangerous because of its effect on Organically Emotional creatures. AE has the potential to take over-stimulation and apply it to your emotions. The video above is an early version, but as the technology progresses, the AE device will become so advanced that it will understand you with machine precision and a perfect memory. It will use Asimov’s laws (yes, they’re listed on the product’s IndieGoGo page) to make sure that if you’re in trouble and it can help, it will. Now, that’s fantastic if you’re house is broken into and the device senses the disturbance and dials out for police assistance, but what about the more subtle implications? More than once in the promo video, the device asks “Are you okay?” without being prompted and then goes on to offer suggestions to improve the mood of the user. These are the actions of a companion, someone who understands you as well as or better than you understand yourself and takes actions to help you feel better. As the AE learns your personality, it will understand exactly what you need to be happier.
That’s where the first pitfall lies. Happiness is great, and we all want to be happier, right? The problem is that if you’re living with a device that understands exactly what makes you happy and provides it, then not having that emotional stimulation is going to give you feelings that seem far less than happy. If you’re emotions range on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is the absolute worst day you’ve ever had, and 10 is the happiest memory you have. Then, a good goal for a normal Wednesday is to be at a 6-7. At that level, you feel nice, you’re having what you would describe as a “good day” and everything is falling into place. In contrast, when you’re not having a good day, the traffic is terrible because of the snow, then your boss yelled at you for being late which distracted you from putting the new covers on your TPS report and now everyone keeps reminding you of that, your mood is probably about 3-4. No one died, your partner still loves you, life goes on, tomorrow has the potential to be better. If you add an AE device, you can take that 6-7 day and make it an 8-9 by letting the device provide the best possible stimulus when you need it. That is a powerful thing. At first, it’s awesome, and you have no idea how you ever lived without it. You’re on top of the world… for a while. Then, that extra stimulus becomes common in the same way that you’re new car doesn’t make you excited to drive around the neighborhood when you’ve had it for 3 years. But, in contrast to the car, you can’t go out and get a new set of emotions. This is an addiction to emotional stimulus. Remove the stimulus and the world becomes a bit more flat and boring. What used to be a 6-7 day for you now feels a lot more like that 3-4 day. It was nice having something to talk to, something that understood you without you needing to explain everything… and now you don’t have that and you miss it.
This leads me to the second pitfall, which is that in comparison to an AE device which can measure and predict your mood and then selflessly and flawlessly improve that mood, normal human interaction is a very frustrating thing. As humans, we’re all influenced by our own perceptions and interpretations of situations. It takes a great deal of effort to understand someone else well enough to be able to offer them solutions for the situations they’re in that will actually improve their mood. This is complicated enormously if you are the partner/spouse/lover and potential reason for the dip in their mood to begin with. The AE addict starts to think “EmoSpark makes me feel good. You… don’t” without even realizing it. The way culture portrays happy and successful relationships is already doing plenty of damage to our expectations, and it’s only being presented in a way that is impersonal to the viewer. When the normal communication process has become daunting because your bar for how the other people in the world should understand and relate to you has been raised to a level that only a machine can provide, there will be serious consequences for society as a whole.
I’m not saying that we are all going to turn into mindless emotion addicts with metaphoric needles constantly in our arms. Nor am I implying that there is a danger that everyone will just turn to their little AE companion in lieu of actual human contact. I only want to say that devices like this have the potential to raise our expectations for interactions to a level that cannot be maintained by organic people. In the end you are still the only source of your own emotions – some will be pleasant, some will be miserable. You need both to learn and grow and achieve balance, peace, and fulfilling happiness.
If the day comes that most people have traded fulfilling joy for instant happiness and we expect each other to cater to our needs and desires like AE machines, I hope the little things do unite and rise up against humanity… at least then humans will have something significant to bring us together.Leave a comment
This is one of the best articles I’ve read on how to build a successful relationship. The first part about how single people are happier than people in unhappy relationships seems both obvious and unrealistically optimistic at the same time. But, stick with it, and be sure to click through to Part 2 at the end. It’s the best 5-10 minutes you’ll spend today:
The only thing that I feel it fails to say is that when you’re in a loving relationship, Valentines Day becomes rather useless. In a good relationship, every day should be a celebration of love. Each day consists not of telling, but of showing that special person how important they are and how glad you are to have them in your life. So, enjoy this post, because I do love you… but none of you are getting a card from me with pink glitter and cartoon hearts.
Happy Valentines Day.Leave a comment February 10, 2014 9:07 PM
Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.Leave a comment
I am a romantic. I subsist on the hope within the space between the words yes and no.Leave a comment
Skip to 58 seconds. This is a man on a hoverboard being filmed in HD by an RC copter that is stabilized by satellite GPS navigation and flown using real-time, first person point of view goggles.
This counts as the future. Welcome, friends.Leave a comment