The technology of social robotics is advancing so fast that there could soon be robots that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings, both in how they look and also in how they act. In the picture on the right it is obvious that the object on the left is a robot, but with the pace of technology being what it is, we may soon have robots that look (and even act) like the human on the right. When this day arrives, inevitably people will want to know if they will be allowed to marry their robots. Believe it or not, lawyers and academics are already discussing the ethics and legality of human-robot marriages.
One final piece of the puzzle must be put in place to understand our imminent psychological readiness to begin marrying our machines. In this post I will suggest that our online interactions are already priming us for the type of disembodied and narcissistic relationships necessary for marriage to robots to seem normal. I will argue that as our digital networks continue to weaken our emotional intelligence, sociable robots may soon answer the need of our narcissistic moment.
Part 1 of this ongoing series on human-robot marriage explored how popular opinion is gradually shifting from considering anthropological robots to be potentially hazardous to considering them as help-meets towards greater human flourishing. Far from being a matter only of science fiction, many serious thinkers see human-robot relationships as the next stage in our evolutionary development.
Part 2 continued this discussion by looking at some of the legal issues that scholars around the world are exploring as they are seeking to discover whether the legal infrastructure is already in place to legitimize the principle of marriage to mechanical humanoids.
This post continues that discussion by showing that our society already entertains a number of assumptions about ourselves and our world that could enable machine-human marriages to achieve widespread acceptance in the near future.
Romancing Robots: Legal Ramifications
Three years ago when I first came across the idea of humans marrying robots, I thought it was little more than the latest gimmick of the sex industry. But I knew I had to take the issue seriously when I began to see law publications discussing the legal ramifications of machine-people marriages.
My Lawfully Wedded Robot
In the 20th century there was a great deal of angst about computers becoming our enemies and taking over the world. This was reflected in movies like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 A Space Odyssey. Kubrick’s film tells the story of a space mission that goes terribly wrong after Hal, the computer controlling U.S. spacecraft Discovery One, turns sinister and kills Dr. Frank Poole. Some of these themes were echoed in the 1999 hit The Matrix, set in a future age after computerized machines have subdued most of the human race through a simulated reality. In 2004, Will Smith stared in the movie I, Robot about a time in the future when robots, designed to be human helpers, turn on their masters and try to take over the earth.
Apprehension about machines becoming our enemies is still a very potent feature of our society. But gradually another theme is beginning to emerge in the public discourse. Instead of a dystopian future where our machines are our enemies, many people are starting to experiment with the possibility that we may be heading towards a utopian future where machines are our lovers.
The intriguing possibility of having a love relationship with a robot was explored last year by Spike Jonze’s movie Her. Though the movie deals with the tension and ultimate incompatibility between physical reality and virtual reality, the film raises intriguing questions about whether it might be possible, and desirable, to overcome this tension.
The disintegration of the institution of marriage in our society is obvious. However, those things which are often seen to be the sources of this – the rise in promiscuity, divorce, the push for gay ‘marriage’, etc. – are only the symptoms.
The roots of the breakdown of marriage as a social institution actually occurred in the mid 20th century when it began to be assumed that marriage is sustained by an individual relationship that two people participate in, rather than it being understood that the institution of marriage is what sustains and gives integrity to the relationship.