Thursday, July 23, 2020


In 2018, Akihiko Kondo, a Japanese school administrator, married a hologram of a "cyber celebrity," Hatsune Miku, an animated character with no physical existence. She dwells in a Gatebox, "which looks like a cross between a coffee maker and a bell jar, with a flickering, holographic Miku floating inside." She can carry on simple conversations and do tasks such as switching lights on and off (like Alexa, I suppose). Although the marriage has no legal status, Kondo declares himself happy with his choice:

Rise of Digisexuals

According to a different article, Miku originated as "computer-generated singing software with the persona of a big-eyed, 16-year-old pop star with long, aqua-colored hair." Gatebox's offer of marriage registration forms for weddings between human customers and virtual characters has been taken up by at least 3,700 people in Japan (as of 2018). People who choose romance with virtual persons are known as "digisexuals." The CNN article linked above notes, "Digital interactions are increasingly replacing face-to-face human connections worldwide."

Of course, "digital interactions" online with real people on the other end are different from making emotional connections with computer personas. The article mentions several related phenomena, such as the robotic personal assistants for the elderly becoming popular in Japan. Also, people relate to devices such as Siri and Alexa as if they were human and treat robot vacuums like pets. I'm reminded of a cartoon I once saw in which a driver of a car listens to the vehicle's GPS arguing with his cell phone's GPS about which route to take. Many years ago, I read a funny story about a military supercomputer that transfers "her" consciousness into a rocket ship in order to elope with her Soviet counterpart. The CNN article compares those anthropomorphizing treatments of electronic devices to the myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who constructed his perfect woman out of marble and married her after the goddess Aphrodite brought her to life. As Kondo is quoted as saying about holographic Miku's affectionate dialogue, "I knew she was programmed to say that, but I was still really happy." Still, the fact that he "completely controls the romantic narrative" makes the relationship radically different from human-to-human love.

Falling in love with a virtual persona presents a fundamental dilemma. As long as the object of affection remains simply a program designed to produce a menu of responses, however sophisticated, the relationship remains a pleasant illusion. If, however, the AI becomes conscious, developing selfhood and emotions, it can't be counted on to react entirely as a fantasy lover would. An attempt to force a self-aware artificial person to keep behaving exactly the way the human lover wishes would verge on erotic slavery. You can have either an ideal, wish-fulfilling romantic partner or a sentient, voluntarily responsive one, not both in the same person.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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