The movie Her offered such thought-provoking material that it would be a shame if I didn’t record down a reflection or few. A question I raised was that, can we be reduced to our consciousness, without our body, and still be us? If we take that as yes, then couldn’t we all have relationships with artificial intelligence? When we love someone, we can love them for the beauty of their mind. If that’s the case, then their body only makes them fit in appearance as a human being, but the entity of question is purely their mind, their consciousness.
But in a sense, we already do that, having relationships with conscious beings, not human beings. We do this everyday on Facebook. Sending messages to someone over the net, another conscious being but yet, we are still alone. In fact, Her is just an extended phone call. Their sexual intercourse can be just phone sex. The only difference is that we know there is a human being behind that veil of consciousness rather than machine code. But then, does it really matter? Let’s say we will not see the person on the other side of the phone for months, or years. Is there a difference now between this and the AI? To me, the answer is no. We are minds floating in a hard shell, plagued by our thoughts, trapped in our bodies.
So, really there’s nothing new with having a relationship with an AI. But does this make us feel less alone? Online messaging doesn’t do that. In fact, it makes us feel even more alone because we are tricked to believe that we are connected, that we are talking to someone. But with an AI, we can accept the fact that it is only an AI. If we reduce human relations to that of two minds connected, one attempting to understand the other, then this AI scheme would at least pacify our loneliness. Do what we want but no amount of work can distract us from the desire for human companionship, for our minds to be understood and empathized.
But we are becoming more isolated. Again, it’s this deception of feeling connected yet lonely. But if we can trick our minds into thinking that, we can also trick it to think about a whole other thing. The only thing missing from an AI is the body. But we have bodies of our own. So what if this body is represented by both my consciousness and that of the AI? There are other places the hand can touch. If we think of the hands as those belonging to the AI, and the rest of the body our own, we can start segmenting the body into bits, each belonging to either the self, or the AI. Soon, we can feel like we’re holding hands, that there’s someone to graze our cheek, to hold our waist. OK, what if this is not believable? What if we suddenly realize that we’re just holding our own hand? Here comes the cross-dressing. If you’re a homosexual there’s no problem. But otherwise, we can dress in clothing typically worn by those of our partner’s gender. When we do so, two experiences happen at once. First, the feeling of our caresses on our hands would be similar to those done on someone of the desired gender, for the clothing are identical. Here, our hands are our own, and the body is the partner’s. Second, the feeling of the hands on the body would be similar to those done by someone else. Here, our body is our own and the hands are the partner’s. What is powerful here is that these two experiences can happen at once, or separately, merely at the mind’s discretion.
Also at the mind’s discretion, I can treat the notes that I play on the piano as a separate entity that has its own consciousness. If I separate my mind from my hands, then the notes take a life of their own. But it’s not completely separate, for I must still use my mind to realize that I am creating and that I have the desire to create notes that come alive. In this way, every melody can be the piano speaking to me, the music on the sheet speaking to me. Of course my mind moves my hand which makes the notes, but it’s the notes that move my mind. When I play the piano, I’m not just making sounds. I am creating a consciousness which in turn is my companion along these notes. Perhaps this consciousness is separate from the notes. But these notes are still a part of this consciousness. Ah, the notes give shape and form to this consciousness. And when I press the keys, I am not only sculpting the form, but touching it at every detail. Again, this is all in the workings of the mind. Without further thought, I could just be touching some black and white buttons. But now, I can create a consciousness, distinct from my own.
So it turns out, when we have consciousness, we can create more consciousness, so that we will pacify our loneliness. Of course, there is no substitute to real human companionship and relationships, yet this can approach it, at least in its spiritual aspect. When we think of two people coming together, we can think of it as two souls finding each other. But in reality, it is also two bodies coming together. This, as much as imagination can fool the mind, cannot be replaced. Our higher levels of thought cannot fake truth, not being able to satisfy our primitive desires. It’s fascinating to see what hoo-hah my diseased mind can think up. Only if I can pacify it instead.