We’ve stumbled upon an Achilles’ heel in the human psyche, and no one seems to have identified it as such: Human beings can’t resist technology, artificial intelligence and robots. And we’ll destroy ourSELVES to interact with them as much as possible.
I’m not talking just about iPhones and Facebook and video games sucking the life out of our young people, like a voracious, insatiable vampire (which they are, of course). I am talking about how ready and excited we are by anything that simulates human behavior that is a machine. That includes avatars that talk like and increasingly look like humans, but it also includes actual robots that are now appearing at CVS store checkouts in lieu of clerks, that are being deployed as “security officers” and “police officers” (https://www.knightscope.com/) and that are even being sold as sexual partners (https://www.realdoll.com/product/harmony-x/).
The psychological ingredients that make up our fascination with, and increasing addiction to, robots seem to include an element of intellectual narcissism. We like the idea that our brain power has unlocked the tools to create facsimiles of ourselves. We are titillated by seeing our creations mimic us. We like playing God.
The trouble is that increasingly embracing robots will inevitably lead to no longer embracing one another, and to not having anything like a firm grip on ourSELVES. That’s because things like human empathy are more like plants than computer chips. Fail to water the capacities to love and empathize with one another (and with oneSELF) and those living miracles of humanity will die—in individuals and then in the whole species.
Avatars will be everywhere soon enough. Already, they are interacting with us in the health care arena, education and romance. And, soon enough, they will short-circuit human kindness and consideration and courage and turn us into—well, them.
Interesting, isn’t it? We made avatars and robots in our image, but, in the end, they could certainly make us morph into their image. An avatar watching an avatar, on a computer screen that screens out the best of us.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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