Alexa, Artificial Intimacy, and Living Lives of Quiet Desperation

More than 100 million Amazon Echoes have already been sold across the globe. Researchers believe many consumers purchase the artificial intelligence device as a “companion.”

A 2019 study, led by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr. Graeme McLean, found that:

Voice assistants may serve as a means of overcoming loneliness in a household with fewer occupants. Individuals converse with voice assistants in the same way as they do with other humans, developing a rapport with the artificial intelligent assistant. Robots can provide a sense of companionship while assisting their users … The additional social presence offered by the voice assistant replaces interaction that may be had with a human counterpart in a larger household.

Besides communing with Alexa, bot lovers also see the voice assistant as a status symbol in their otherwise mundane lives: “As AI technology has become more widely available, embedded as part of our everyday life and somewhat trendy to use, individuals may be adopting and using the technology to enhance their social status to make them appear important within their peer groups.”

Meanwhile, of course, their new friend (sic) is eavesdropping on their conversations and sending such data to third parties. What a time to be alive!

In the age of artificial intelligence (AI), it makes sense that we’re now dealing with artificial intimacy, too. Besides Alexa and Siri, we have sex robots, virtual reality pornography, AI-enhanced sex toys, etc. — not to mention all those clever algorithms that match you up on dating apps. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of men between the ages of 18 and 24 report having no sex at all in 2020. While, in 2019, more than five billion hours of pornography were watched on Pornhub alone. That’s 500 million years’ worth of hours dedicated to 12 months of artificial intimacy. What a time to be alive!

Before the advent of such digital dysfunction, the average human spent 192 minutes per day interacting — face-to-face — with other humans. Setting aside sleep time, that’s one-fifth of each day. Conversely, the average human in 2021 now surrenders about 153 minutes per day to social media usage. At this rate, it won’t be long before that reaches one-fifth of each day — fully reversing the hard-wired trend we require. And what happens during those 153 daily minutes on social media? Among many things, the robots put us in touch with far more humans than the infamous “Dunbar’s Number” allows.

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar postulates that a human brain can effectively connect with people in groups no larger than 150. We each possess physiology that evolved to negotiate the Stone Age. Inconveniently, we live in the Digital Age. Therein lies the rub. We are urban cavemen and cavewomen — overmatched in our daily crusade to navigate an artificial reality because we have surrendered contact with our deepest nature.

For one thing, we didn’t evolve to be surrounded by this many people. Thus, we attempt a futile search for a manageable tribe within a smartphone/social media culture. Our brains are burdened with trying to make peace and sense with a sudden influx of too many “friends.” The result is a corrupted version of intimacy, a loss of crucial IRL time, and an epidemic of loneliness. Interactions are available at our fingertips but our souls need more. Much more. 

I didn’t write this article to share some “interesting” info with you. I also didn’t write it because I “always focus on the negative” (stay tuned for an article about that). This is Paul Revere stuff. It’s a wake-up call. Amidst the headlines about a condo collapse, alleged new Covid variants, and crime rate spikes, all of the above is happening 24/7. It will impact the future far more than the “critical race theory” ever will. 

The already-embedded trends described in this article are shaping the lives and minds of children everywhere. But they are not inevitable. They are not unstoppable. In fact, they constitute nothing more than a house of cards. All it takes to tip the structure is for us to begin opting out. Say NO to artificial intimacy. Reclaim your humanity. 

To repeat: What a time to be alive! No, I’m not being cynical. I’m simply listening to the sound of opportunity knocking… kicking down the damn door, you might say. When else in all of human history has there been a time when we were in a better position to shape the future? What we do (or don’t do) in the next few years could quite possibly tilt us all toward either the point of no return or a far more sane form of society. In other words, each and every one of us can take part — right now — in creating the most important social changes ever imagined. How lucky are we?

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.