ROBOT LOVE – Can we learn from robots about love?

Films such as Her, Ex Machina, Uncanny and the series Äkte Människor (Real Humans) and Black Mirror about intimate relationships between man and machine tumble over us. There is no escape: our life is undergoing drastic change as a result of the co-existence of ever more intelligent robots. And where in the West we still have our reservations, developments in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan not only prove their technological advantage, they are also culturally ahead. Relations between humans and robots are not taboo or odd, but fit into old traditions like the Shinto religion where everything has a soul (kami).

Among robots we do not only include the humanoid robots where the largest gains are made in terms of popularity (the first baby robot has already been born). The development of artificial intelligence (AI), and the continuation thereof in synthetic intelligence (SI) is the reason for this research. Well-known examples are self driving cars, game computers that beat world champions, machines recognizing faces and those that make medical diagnoses or predict crimes. At technological universities in Delft and Eindhoven interdisciplinary teams develop robotic swarms which not only share intelligence as a swarm but agency as well. Quantum computing is the next step. In this way a human friendly environment can come into existence, responding directly to human needs. Which does not stop the process of self-domestication pursued by the military- entertainment complex as self-sustaining predatory continuum. The question is not whether robots will learn and possess genuine intelligence, but how this will be effectuated and what they will be learning based on what we are prepared to share. Do we decide to only provide measurable data based on our self-diagnosis of man as a rational creature, or do we want the intelligent beings around us to become acquainted with other human qualities such as intuition and empathy as well? To what extent does Western culture, assuming a clear separation between a decisive subject and lifeless object, allow or inhibit such transition? The question young people ask is in that sense relevant: are we becoming masters or pets of robots in the not so far away future?

ROBOT LOVE explores the potential of these new AI developments: opportunities and threats. With an added third route: what if man decides to open the scope for robots with a wider range of experiences? As the result of new kinds of relationships we have with them? Could robots than teach us what love is? Barbara Fredrickson introduced in her article Love 2.0 a biological definition of love including a much wider interpretation than what is usually given when describing love. Our brain, the hormone oxytocin and the vagus nerve are the primary players in what neuroscientists call life’s biology or the social engagement system. Also Tor Nørretranders, author of The User Illusion, stressed: “We should be very aware of what we actually have in our hearts and brains, all of which is so much richer than what we have in our minds.” Especially in the context of upcoming synthetic intelligence to the level that one can speak of new life, it is key to recognize the importance of human skills as intuition and empathy. This can be learned by maximizing your horizon, whether you are human or machine. According to Nørretranders the competition in the near future will be about who gets to develop the best playgrounds for robots instead of the best algorhitmic programs: “They will have to be not tame, but wild, acting from their own will”.

The influence of cultural traditions enriching or mitigating the potential for robot love time and again proves to be larger than we might suspect or even desire. For the project to move on beyond describing the current technological status quo – even though important and exciting- investigating the possible role of neuroscience and ethics is crucial. Instead of forever reproducing our outdated bivalent principles we had better draw on the resources of polyvalent non-Western cultures. This involves traditions of emerging powers such as China, Japan, Korea, but also Arabic philosophy and Persian Humanism. ROBOT LOVE deliberately opens itself to the contribution of Western and non-Western artists who were recently picked up by contemporary curators and philosophers. Also from their point of view it is clear that people need love, but not restricted to the romantic or sexual kind. By interpreting love between humans and non-humans, mediated and made possible by digitization and robotics, we find new paths as a social form of love. This idea finds support from philosophers advocating love as a political concept (Alain Badiou / Michael Hardt).

Ine Gevers, artistic director Niet Normaal Foundation