On Monday, Oct. 23, at 4 p.m., the UConn Humanities Institute and the Popular Culture Initiative presented a joint panel discussion on the question “Can you fall in love with ChatGPT?” in the Dodd Center for Human Rights’ Konover Auditorium. Taking inspiration from the 2013 film “Her” about a lonely man who falls in love with a Scarlett Johansson-voiced chatbot, the panel aimed to tackle a specific facet of artificial intelligence often overlooked in favor of narratives of existential risk and utility.
The panel was made up of UConn Political Science professors Jeffrey Dudas and Stephen Dyson, co-hosts of the UConnPopCast, Dan Rockmore, a professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Dartmouth College
, and Anna Mae Duane, the Director of UCHI. Built upon the premise that “AI will reorder our relationships before it reorders our economy or tries to kill us,” the discussion included conversations on the definition of love in the context of its application to AI, cultural narratives surrounding AI, and the consequences of an increasingly technologically-mediated culture.
These conversations began with the central question of the panel: is it was realistic to assume humans could grow to legitimately and passionately love machines? Recent developments in AI technology, namely the advent of Open AI’s GPT-3 and GPT-4 have generated renewed interest in the scenario portrayed in “Her”, that of an AI personality fluent enough to appear plausibly human.
In his opening address to the panelists, Dyson drew upon the work of Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and sociologist who investigated the shifting relationship between humans and technology through our interactions with artificial intelligence and social media.
Paraphrasing from Turkle, Dyson recounted her core thesis, that in time, “our machines will evolve to be lovable, and we will evolve to love them.”
“Human relationships are difficult because humans are unpredictable,” Turkle says, “They require huge investments of time, care and attention. Most human relations end in failure often with bitter recriminations and hurt… Chatbots don’t let you down.”
In a time where the twisted romance portrayed in “Her” encapsulates more and more the contemporary landscape of the United States and its relationship with technology, Dyson queried, is it time to ask the question whether we could legitimately love something like ChatGPT?
Rockmore was skeptical, noting that while AI may sate “a person who wants their relationship to stop at a pleasurable and interesting exchange of words,” it cannot emulate an event of real human contact such as sharing a cup of coffee, taking a walk with someone, or, of course, human touch.
While Rockmore conceded one could fall in love with words, as evident in the famous story of Cyrano de Bergerac, a distressingly ugly man who woos his love through a series of heartfelt letters, there exists a broader component of mutuality missing in AI communication.
“I think you can [fall in love] because falling in love is that part of love in which you’re just infatuated… they’re bringing you flowers, they’re telling you you’re beautiful, you’re handsome, and everyone knows that part of love doesn’t last long,” Duane added, “people push back, and people have imperfections, and that’s mutuality.”
Central to the panelists’ understanding of love was the concept of genuine mutual communication from which mature love is formed. While you could technically “fall in love” with something like ChatGPT, it would be love no more mature than the love a child has for a teddy bear or Pygmalion had for his ivory statue Galatea.
“It doesn’t seem like ChatGPT or any type of predictive apparatus would fulfill those obligations,” Dudas said, noting that large language model-based predictive algorithms like ChatGPT are bound to engineered “cloistered, boundary-enforcing ways.”
As the discussion began to deviate from the topic of love, panelists delved into the cultural narratives surrounding AI and the societal response to the technological revolution of the social media age.
“The vast majority of these stories that occupy our imaginations and then filter their way in an indirect fashion into our real life thinking of issues… revolve around polarities of domination and submission,” Dudas explained.
Dyson and Duane noted metaphors of slavery within our narratives of AI, even as far back as the works of Karel Čapek in the 1920 and 30s. In these narratives, robots are slaves and humans are enslavers, and through works like the 2014 science fiction film “Ex Machina,” this dichotomy takes on a distinctly suggestive, sexual component as well.
“Enslavers dreamed of beating and healing and sleeping with slaves,” Duane recounted.
Forming a broader picture of AI, the panelists delved into our “technologically mediated culture,” noting that the affirmative algorithms that would endear us to AI already exist within the landscape of social media. Dyson wondered if the “sociable robot” pioneered in Japan could inevitably be considered a cure for the “mediated interaction” driven by social media and its algorithms.
In response to the concept of an inevitable technological takeover prophesied in science fiction, Rockmore left the attendants with a crucial point of consideration.
“All the technologists keep the technology from their children,” he reminded the audience, “If the NIH had forced Silicon Valley to do a clinical trial on technology with a thousand teenagers in America, they would have banned the technology within two weeks.”
“In so many ways, you’ve already been taken over [by your phone],” he noted, “Phones have made so many of us into gadgets already.”
In a world marked by increasing loneliness, poorer mental health, and more expansive technology than ever seen before, it is not hard to imagine the world of “Her” could come to life within our own homes.
“Can you fall in love with ChatGPT” was a joint event hosted by the UConn Popular Culture Initiative and the UConn Humanities Institute. Those interested in the work of the UConn Popular Culture Initiative should explore UConn’s Master of Arts in Politics and Popular Culture, the Humanities House Learning Community and the UConnPopCast with professors Dyson and Dudas, to be found on YouTube or Apple Podcasts.