Ambient Intimacy, Human Contact, and Droids on Facebook

Posted in: human behavior, psychology, technology- Sep 28, 2011 No Comments

Ambient Intimacy is a phrase coined by Leisa Reichelt. It’s a term used to describe the feeling of connection, albeit virtual, we have developed on such sites as Facebook and Twitter. At first I thought this growing trend of feeling connected to someone while possibly never meeting or having a “real world” encounter with them, could only end badly. What happens if we forsake real connection? What happens if we feel satisfied with this virtual intimacy and neglect the relationships in our physical life? Perhaps more pertinent, how will it change the way children of today bond and relate to one another?

Lot’s of open questions–help me out if you have any ideas.

Anyway, what made me think of ambient intimacy and human connection was this article I came across this morning: Do Androids Dream of Origami Unicorns? (whose title rocks btw).

The article has an interview with Matthieu Cherubini, creator of rep.licants.org, which he describes as: a web service allowing users to install an artificial intelligence (bot) on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. From keywords, content analysis and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account and to create new contacts with other users.

What struck me was how this “service” is taking another leap away from authentic connection (understatement). Already missing from an online connection with someone is that person’s voice, body language, mannerisms, and that oddly intangible energy between you both that is only there in person. If people can now opt to be represented by bots, no matter how intelligent they are … well, that just blows any thought of real connection out of the proverbial waters.

The author of this article sums it up with:

The questions that rep.licants poses are deep human and social ones–laced with uncertainties about the kinds of interactions we count as normal and the responsibilities we owe to ourselves and each other. Seeing these bots carry out conversations with themselves and with human counterparts … allows us to take traditional social and technological research into a different territory–asking not only what it means to be human–but also what it means to be non-human.

I’m not so concerned with what it means to be non-human—but perhaps I should be.

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