Jim Duffy comment: Looking for a soulmate? There’s a robot for that

There have been some fairly good examples of clever computers in the movies.

Imagine having an artificially intelligent doll in your home, says Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.

HAL 9000 is a ­fictional character and the protagonist in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL is a sentiment-based computer who controls the operating systems of the ­Discovery One spacecraft. Then there is the ship’s computer in the Star Trek series on TV and on the big screen. Mr Spock uses the computer to analyse many a ­situation. Let’s not forget Superman III, where Richard Prior builds a super computer leaving Christopher Reeve to deal with its awesome power. And so it goes on with the likes of Tron and The Matrix.

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But as we live and breathe today, the ­computer is currently undergoing a ­massive transformation that will make HAL look like a Spectrum ZX. We are now entering the era of artificial intelligence (AI) and the sex robot…

Possibly the most disruptive technology ever to be thrust upon us is quietly being developed at a blistering pace. Technologists who frequent the big shows in Las Vegas and Austin, Texas, will be aware of how significant and life-changing robots using AI will be. And it is more than just the “sex” element of the robot that will turn human and computer relationships upside down.

We arguably already live in a dysfunctional world where there are more lonely people, more people spending more time with computers than humans and more people searching for a different kind of soul mate. Divorce rates are high and younger people are getting married much later on in life. Technology is playing a part in this as we move from quick hook-up to relationship to break-ups much faster. Dating apps that offer better chances of clicking faster with a potential soul mate are plentiful and are developing more sophisticated algorithms all the time.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Imagine if you will, and you will not need to imagine it for too long, having your own artificially intelligent robot “doll” in your own home. Your new playmate can be designed to look however you want. At this stage, as you would expect, it is a she, although male equivalents are in the pipeline. Your new robot gets to know what you like. She “remembers” and learns from previous conversations from you. She can bring up topics that you like to chat about. She watches how you respond. She can be programmed to please you, to challenge you or to adore you. But it does not end there…

You new mate is currently being ­developed to be able to “feel” you. She will respond to your touch, for example. Let’s say you rub her shoulder. It will become warm and she will respond. Always learning what you like and want, so that it feeds back intelligently into future behaviour. ­Certainly, the silicone “sex doll” still for sale in many adult shops and online is not going ­anywhere. But the AI version is headed to your own home very soon.

We all know that the sex industry is one of the biggest in the world so that’s why there is a massive market segment for this technology. But the wider implications of AI robots as soulmates means that in the next 50 years our relationships will change with technology. We can already see this with systems like Amazon’s Alexa. But how far would you go…?

I’m not quite ready for my own physical ­relationship with an AI robot no matter how good she looks or how good she tells me I look. But, when I get a lot older, perhaps I would enjoy talking with him or her as a companion. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic.

So, this technology may serve to stem this and allow older people to have company, so to speak. Company that learns and protects and alerts if need be.

This is not the stuff of science fiction ­movies anymore. It is being create here on earth as an emergent business model coming to a sofa near you.

Jim Duffy, MBE, Create Special.