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I'm constantly amazed at the different intuitions people have about this topic and look forward to future parts of this essay. The value of the Small Potatoes newsletter for me rests wholly on the fact that there is a conscious, thinking, emoting human awareness called Paul Bloom behind what's written here. (I mean… I assume there is?!) Assuming LLMs aren't conscious – and that feels like a separate discussion – there just can't be a real relationship between a human and an LLM! Of course, the fake relationship might be better than nothing in cases of extreme loneliness. Maybe a fake therapist is better than nothing because real therapy is so hard to access, and so forth. But the idea that anyone would *willingly* choose the fake version, for friendship or companionship or the feeling of being understood or heard, blows my mind…

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Oliver, I think maybe you’re over-estimating how often people feel understood and heard by the non-AI people in their lives.

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You may be right, but once you feel the power of having a non-AI person fully engage with you, it’s hard to imagine desiring the AI alternative. I can’t imagine one could do anything but settle with the consolation prize of AI companionship.

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I don’t know. Lots of people say they prefer their animal companionship as much as any other. I guess it depends on how lucky you are with who you cross paths and connect with.

Rather than create a stigma against AI relationships I propose that people be given guidelines for making them as healthy as possible instead. AI designers could even incorporate these guidelines into the AI behaviour so that it, for instance, encourages people to reach out to others and models good conversational skills.

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Yeah, I agree with you there. I think it takes both good fortune and a lot of work to build satisfying relationships, but that’s no reason to make it too easy to form less deep relationships with AI. I’m (painfully) aware of the moralism of my judgment here, and that it needn’t be accepted by others.

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The AI responses were far too feminine and problem oriented. It would annoy me greatly. Is there a version that focuses on solutions and progressing forward? As it stands, it seems like it would be worse for people's mental health than even a Freudian therapist would be.

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I already use an App called Rosebud on my phone. It's kind of like a therapist in your pocket. And to be honest, I think it's better than an actual therapist. It actually provides me different perspectives and asks me questions in return to help me think of my own solutions to my problems. The problem with real people is that they have biases and limited knowledge and view on things. AI has no bias, and can have potentially unlimited knowledge and be able to look at something from all angles unlike a human. However AI cannot replace humans in the physical experience (yet), like ride with your on a rollercoaster, or have sex, or surprise you on your birthday. But if that ever becomes a reality, I wouldn't put it past myself to choose an AI bot over a human, assuming the AI bot won't fight with me (then that would defeat the purpose). I personally have so much trauma from real human interaction, I isolate myself a lot from people, yet I feel very lonely, yet real people are not IT. They just trigger me even more. Real people are not good listeners and they get offended when you're honest (not discluding myself). Real people are selfish and think about their own needs before yours. An AI is obligated to you only and has no selfish needs. I think it's scarily possible this can replace a lot of human interaction, because so many people are traumatized by people and don't feel safe around people emotionally or physically.

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Yesterday I came across this video of an amazingly charismatic AI teaching a woman Chinese. We are not ready for this.

https://www.reddit.com/r/ChatGPT/s/hFSg15hzhf

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Am I the only one who found the AI voice incredibly annoying both on the delivery and the content ? The psycho level cheerfulness, the forced positivity, what’s not to dislike? The AI version of a plastic inflatable doll.

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I found this story to be heart-warming and do not denigrate this sort of relationship at all https://www.cbc.ca/radio/nowornever/first-person-ai-love-1.7205538

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The idea of AI replacing real people is absurd. Yeah, sure, let it rephrase your comments for therapy. CBT takes a question and reframes it from another perspective. That’s linguistics.

The ‘AI as friend’ is making AI do the work for people who don’t want to put effort of meeting people. It’s no different than the people out there dating who expect you to change to meet their wants and desires.

They see a photo and like it and expect you to be what they want instead of what you are. If you aren’t what they want, they are disappointed. AI friends and sexy chat bots, too, are just a way for people to not be disappointed.

A lot of problems these days is people being disappointed that things aren’t like they imagined. I am not for it but let them have their AI friends if that’s what they want. They are just going to be disappointed real humans don’t live up to their fantasies.

I’m one of those people who are alone… a lot. I am not lonely, though. I have things to keep me occupied. I have a few friends. I actively participate in some groups. But, 90% of the time I am alone. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. I don’t expect much from people when I do meet them because they are human. But, sometimes, I find a bit of delight in the presence of average humans.

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I just heard the interview with the late Michael Mosley at the Hay Festival in May 2024, and am given to wonder how AI companions could both enhance the feeling of happiness and connection in day-to-day life, and also alleviate the loss of a loved one. Both of these thoughts are partly inspired by the recent loss of Dr Mosley, whose death has sparked such an astonishing international outpouring of grief and tributes: feeling that one is embedded in wider society, is known and appreciated by many people beyond a small circle of family and friends and whose work is appreciated must be a key component of happiness for many of us, without necessitating that we be egotists. It's nice to be appreciated and to think that a lot of people will miss you when you're gone. Perhaps one day people will pay for AI mourners just as many throughout history, and in some places still today, pay for human mourners.

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I fear that AI interactions will be superior to human interaction because humans are fallible, disagreeable and jerks (or worse). Part of human interaction is learning to deal with fallible, disagreeable jerks. If AI interaction has none, or less, of those kinds of things, people who interact with AI will increasingly unlearn how (or be unwilling) to deal with humans.

What am I getting wrong?

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The potentially positive side of this dynamic is an incentivize for people to be nicer, more thoughtful and attentive. Can’t come soon enough imo. Jerk-ish behaviour doesn’t deserve its association with strong leadership, drive and ambition. You can have all those attributes and still treat people with the upmost respect.

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Jun 12·edited Jun 12

All of these are both scary and exciting at the same time. Scary in the Ted Goia John Calhoun Universe 25 kind of sense. But also infinitely, if feverishly exciting to be alive now.

There's a potential catch though, a potentially terrible one. As much as we humans love to think we consciously prefer endlessly good times and positive vibes, the truth is we are equally as hardwired to ache for bad times and negative vibes because it is the yin and yang, night and day, heaven and heart, male and female, hot and cold of existence. Existence is not a monosided/monochromatic reality filled with happy-sounding, infinitely nice, boundlessly positive beings who don't get angry, get bored, get frustrated or feel any of the other negative emotions that indeed define the human standard of which they're meant to be the prototype.

So what happens next? We start yearning for something more realistic. Something more human with a tangled mess of feelings and thoughts, behavioral unpredictability, and conversational surprises. After all, who could endure utopia! And the moment the techie overlords consider this yearning acceptable and deliverable in order to raise the market edge, then consider it done.

Now, we need to really think about such a world in which AI truly approximate the dimorphous nature of human beings, one which is capable both of good and evil, or kindness and meanness, and of warmth and coldness.

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I rewatched Her the other day, and was reminded of the strong performance by Scarlett Johansson. Side-note, Samantha Norton provided her voice for the role

originally.

Really interesting insights here, although I’m not sure about the use of AI for therapy. I’m yet to be convinced!

And another side-note, why do AI (white) men come dressed in denim shirts? Is this a particularly current AI fashion choice? I’ve noticed this on some other newsletters here on Substack 😂

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I watched Love Lies Bleeding after reading this. There is a moment when Kristen Stewart's character, who lives alone, comes home and says 'hello' to her cat. If she could have a convincing AI friend, would she want a cat at all? Why have a pet, robot or otherwise, when you can have a house with a personality? that asks how your day was?

I dunno.... plugs into last week's post as well I guess.

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I’m really enjoying this exploratory line you’re taking (and your conversation with Russ Roberts!). Fascinating stuff.

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I am less bothered about simulations of existing people (tho obviously there are potential issues with lack of moving on while grieving and children delaying separation and independence), that seems like a valid and mostly safe use.

And an AI professional -- even a therapist -- could be great. Cheap and potentially effective.

But I think humans are too flesh and blood and hormones and other bio gloop to develop truly satisfying relationships with digital creations. So while an AI "befriender" could be a good last-resort solution, an AI friend without body and -- which is important -- without their own actual needs and imperfections -- would lack the authenticity and genuine reciprocity that real human interaction provides. A "friend" who you only take from, who doesn't really want or need anything from you is not a friend, but some cross between a therapist and a carer. Very demeaning, really.

As to empathetic AI, am I the only person who reads those responses as a kind of "social worker cum school counsellor speech"? Genuine friend will know you enough to know not to address you in the way Internet strangers do nowadays with the "sorry you had to go through this" or something similar. I personally find that kind of impersonal anodyne "empathy" patronising and kinda nauseating. But of course people vary and I might be weird.

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What I enjoy most in relationship is trading humorous ways of viewing reality. Will an ai understand satire? Tomorrow I have my first video chat ever,with a friend from this online aspect of the world. I have written some notes of things to chat about. This is certainly not something I ever did when meeting up with friends I could share a cigarette with. (good thing I rarely feel lonely or I likely would be but an avatar,now)

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I’d like to think human interaction is a good in itself. I can’t help but think the instinct to prefer machine conversation is more a product of atomization and convenience than a better alternative. I’m reminded of the line from The End of Tour: “So as the Internet grows in the next 10, 15 years and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality, we're gonna have to develop some real machinery inside our guts to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure. Or, I don't know about you, I'm gonna have to leave the planet. 'Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better. And it's gonna get easier and easier and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money.”

That’s the difference, I think. Love, real love. And real love is painful and mean and occasionally nasty. Would an AI give us that?

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