Social Question

TitsMcGhee's avatar

How would you react to James' Automatic Sweetheart?

Asked by TitsMcGhee (8252points) November 11th, 2009

William James first framed the automatic sweetheart question in Pragmatism (1955). Suppose you are deeply in love: Every adoring glance, every gentle caress, every tender sigh you will take as signs of your sweetheart’s love for you; everything she/he does will bespeak a love for you like yours for him/her. Then, one day, you discover she/he is only a machine, cleverly constructed to exhibit tokens of love for you; but she/he is not conscious being but a machine, a simulacrum of a sweetheart. Do you love him/her still?

Note: This was an assignment for my history of psychology class, but it has been turned in. The text is quoted from my assignment sheet. I am interested in what other jellies think, not in getting a response for a homework answer.

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33 Answers

will's avatar

I think that we’ll get to find out first hand in the next ten years.

Grisaille's avatar

This is preposterous. I’dve already performed The Test.

EDIT: Here be nerd humor.

jeanna's avatar

@Grisaille hehe GA man i love those damn comics.

nzigler's avatar

Why the hell not? It would have to be fairly ‘conscious’ to convincingly display love and if it picked me and stuck with me, how is that different than the mutual affection you can have with any other mate?

Furthermore, cyborg babies?

Grisaille's avatar

For a bit more serious of an answer… uh… how many people know about her… “condition”? If it’s just me… well…

@jeanna Phew. Was hoping not many people would get it.

jeanna's avatar

I’m not sure I could remain in a serious relationship with the machine, but I’d keep it around for sex, at least.

Harp's avatar

Yes, I imagine that I would still love her.

Descartes firmly believed that animals were automata, without mind, but he still doted on his pet dog. In Japan, robots programmed to show affection are used in some nursing homes to provide companionship, and the residents show unabashed affection for them.

I think that the neurophysical mechanism behind love operates on a more fundamental and compelling level than does the rational, analytical function whereby I determine that my “lover” is not a real person. I think the illusion would carry the day.

As a parallel example, many modern thinkers assert that there is no such thing as a self, and yet the illusion is so compelling that few of them actually behave as if there were no self. They will continue to defend the ego when it is attacked, take pleasure when the ego is stroked, etc., all the while professing that the ego is only an appearance.

Zuma's avatar

Yes, I would still love him. Lord knows I’ve loved far worse. It would seem rather churlish and small-minded to hold being a machine against a person. Ultimately, we are all machines living in a holographic simulacrum running on our DNA wetware. Indeed, as Harp argues, the objects we regard as “self” and “person” are constructs by this same reality-making machinery.

What does it mean to be a “real” person? Is such a possibility beyond a machine? I don’t think so. I think it is possible to create a machine that is programmed to survive both on an autonomous-individual and a social-cultural level, and which is capable of co-evolving along with us on both levels.

We bond with our cars, why not synthetic creatures that are always helpful, always act in good faith, which give more to us than we give them, and which treat us with respect and dignity? Certainly machines are capable of consistency and integrity; and if they can learn to put up with our inconsistencies and contradictions, our cruelty, ill-temper and bad faith, and still treat us decently, the least we can do is love them back.

The temptation would be to force them to cater to our neurotic needs—to indulge our baser impulses and lock ourselves into maladaptive self-deceptions. A lover challenges us to be more moral by acting as a witness to how we meet the challenges of life; a lover tells us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear (unless it is to soften the blow of devastating news). If a machine could ever reach such a level of sophistication, I think they would be worthy of our love.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

It would be heartbreaking. I imagine it would be pretty similar to finding out a lover you’ve had for years gives no real reasons for wanting to stay with you than, “he/she loves me and cares about me like no one else”.

CMaz's avatar

I have experienced that.

The love stays imprinted. Like an addiction you have to avoid.
You reflect on it and you will miss it. But you will always be reminded of how your foolishness got you fooled.

Because in the end the love you take is equal to the love you give.

tinyfaery's avatar

Sure. I love my iPhone and my car and they don’t even love me back.

And what if you found out your SO was an alien? I watched V last night. I’d still love my wife.

ratboy's avatar

What a coincidence that you should ask; I find myself in that situation just now. As far as love is concerned, it makes no difference that she is mechanical, but I am taking her back to have an on/off switch installed.

LostInParadise's avatar

If it swims like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it is a duck. If I can’t tell the difference between a programmed automaton and a conscious being then either I am awfully stupid or for all practical purposes the automaton has consciousness. Once again Occam’s Razor can be used to decide a philosophical question. Go for the simplest explanation. If there is no way of distinguishing the robot’s behavior from that of someone with consciousness then the robot has consciousness and I could love it in the same way that I love a “real” person. Being a Pragmatist, I suspect James came to a similar conclusion.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Perhaps a bit off topic, but your comment gets me thinking…
Is that the line in the sand, whether it can be detected by our senses as genuine or not?

Can the same be done with… say… linguistics? Since that’s what these relationships are primarily based upon.

Let’s say for instance, a simple comment, such as… “Nice Jeans”.

All things equal, the inflection of the comment is set and transmitted with one singular intentional meaning, but the receiver cannot by any means distinguish the difference from that comment meant as a compliment or an insult. That doesn’t make a compliment and an insult the same things, just because the original intention cannot be detected.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I think it would be a case of heartbreak immediately. If a machine has no soul and no consciousness, no real capability for emotion then it could not possibly love me back. I would not want to be with someone who had no real feelings for me just because I had feelings for him/it. I am not a believer that AI is akin to being alive in this sense.

Harp's avatar

Once, as a teen, I fell in love with a girl in a dream. Even after I awoke, for days actually, I longed for her even though I knew she was just a creature of my own sleep consciousness. If I could have had an alternative nocturnal life with her, I would have jumped at it.

Think too about well-crafted horror movies. You know that it’s a fiction, just light on a screen. You probably can even guess when something ugly is going to jump out at you. You may not believe in the kind of supernatural phenomena it portrays. And still, all of that “knowing” doesn’t stop you from recoiling in fright when the moment comes. The film isn’t playing to your cerebral cortex that knows all that stuff; it’s tapping directly into the more primitive parts of your brain that don’t care what the cortex knows.

Hell, just look at all the questions on Fluther where the asker is piteously in love with someone who clearly doesn’t give a shit about them.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I once fell in love with a beautiful woman. She had a reputation for being scandalous but I thought she would put aside her old ways just for me because I was obviously the one for her. She showed all the tell tale signs of being a cheater and time revealed a very wicked and evil side of her. No matter how bad things got, she was somehow always able to look me in the eye, with that beautiful face and lie her way out of any situation… even turn it around and make me the bad guy.

One day I came to the realization that she was a complete fake. Understanding that no matter how she acted towards me, she was just incapable of loving me back. I wasn’t really heartbroken as much as I felt completely foolish. Foolish and relieved at the same time. I just felt plain stupid for fooling myself.

I imagine the same scenario with a robot. No matter how much I wanted it to love me… really really love me, no matter how much I wanted to believe it was true, the fact remains that it’s just not something it would ever be capable of. I would feel very foolish to think that I ever thought it could do something that it couldn’t. It’d be like falling for a blowup sex doll and thinking it was true love.

LostInParadise's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies , You have to take the “Nice jeans” comment in context. If there is nothing in the robot’s behavior to indicate compliment or insult then no conclusion can be drawn.

It is like the Turing test for consciousness. Admittedly there is a difference of opinion on the validity of the test, but I don’t buy John Searle’s Chinese room argument. John Searle also came out and said that artificial intelligence is impossible because of Godel’s Theorem. I don’t go along with the argument. Once again, if it walks like a duck…

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

All I know Tits is that if you were a robot or machine I’d still love you.

ratboy's avatar

@hungryhungryhortence: I wish you’d told me about this before; it looks like a viable alternative to a high maintenance SO.

asmonet's avatar

@Sueanne_Tremendous: If I had a lovebot, I’d name it @Sueanne_Tremendous. That seems like a fabulous name for love doll.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

@asmonet: Any love dolls in this relationship must be shared, kthnx.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@ratboy hey that’s some “real sexual luxury”. A little pricey though unless the girl comes with it. I might look for a used one one eBay.

aprilsimnel's avatar

No, I wouldn’t want that sort of affection. I want it to be freely given and from a being who can understand that I’m not perfect and love me anyway. Further, I would want to be able to give that same sort of love in return and it’s not possible to do that for an android.

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

I’m Asmo’s Lovebot…I’m tingling Of course I know in name only…but i still tingle

Harp's avatar

Probably just a short-circuit

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

@Harp could be a short-circuit, or it could be a feature on the upgraded model

TitsMcGhee's avatar

@Sueanne_Tremendous: Me + asmonet + robot you = a beautiful, beautiful thing.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Very interesting question. There’s a novel by Torrente Ballester called Quizá nos lleve el viento al infinito (in English, something like Perhaps the Wind Will Carry Us to Infinity) that deals with the exact same idea.

asmonet's avatar

Damn, I take a few days off my activity and I miss my giggles.


TitsMcGhee's avatar

@asmonet: Always for you, wifey :D

snowberry's avatar

I love my Truck! It’s right outside!
I don’t get much love
But I sure get a ride!

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