Falling ‘MOE-Fully’ In Love

Ruwandi Perera takes a sneak peek into the modern emergence of ‘lovotics’

It’s the month of roses, chocolates, teddies and greeting cards – and this year, expect more deliveries of all things valentine than in the past thanks to the physical distancing measures we’re compelled to adhere to.

While some will try to master online shopping and arranging deliveries, others have turned to love… robotically.

The term ‘moe’ stems from the Japanese word moeru, which means bursting into bud but is now being used to mean intimately loving a virtual or fictional person. Being a country with a history of dating simulations and an almost passionate obsession for all things robotic, Japan is way ahead when it comes to intertwining human life with machines.

Indeed, the Japanese have a higher level of acceptance of intimacy with nonhuman characters both virtual and robotic.

A glimpse of this human-machine love was romanticised in the movie Her back in 2013 wherein a man falls in love with a virtual assistant with a female voice, as well as in Ex Machina in 2014 where a hopelessly devoted human is tricked by a female robot so that he would help her escape her cruel master’s grip.

Sci-fi and robot movies have blurred the lines between human and machine relationships – many of us cried watching Wall-E, right?

Some films have made us believe that robots can in fact love us back. While this is not proven, today’s technology is so advanced that it’s becoming more difficult to differentiate between robotic intelligence and actual feelings of affection from machines.

AI is meant to make machines mimic human intelligence; and when combined with sophisticated language processing and face recognition technology, you’re looking at an almost human robot, which people can and do become attached to… and at times, even fall in love with.

For instance, a Chinese engineer named Zheng Jiajia married a robot that he built some years back. Studies have also disclosed humans admitting to being romantically attracted to virtual assistants such as Alexa.

With retail robots including the controversial ‘sexbots’ available for sale and purchased by an increasing number of people, there’s mounting evidence that some people don’t mind companionship of any form even if it comes from a robot.

So what about hormones, neurotransmitters and chemistry?

According to experts, these biological reactions can be triggered in humans by robots. In fact, they are intensified with a soft human-like touch, captivating voice and superior intelligence, so much so that they read us verbally and nonverbally, remember our behavioural tendencies and accept us for who we are without argument or opinion.

Although it may be impossible for some of us to even imagine, falling in love with a robot is not improbable given that we are already in love with technology: we’re so obsessed with smartphones that we can’t imagine life without them; we’re comfortable talking to Siri or Alexa and have modified our language, tone and phrasing to converse productively; and we’re completely dependent on the machines we use.

Some might even call it going a step beyond loving pets, opening up to private journals or venting to imaginary friends, which make human-robot romance seem less weird and more plausible.

The benefits aren’t difficult to comprehend either – companionship for the lonely, assistance for the elderly and even mimicry of the real thing for those without it.

Yet, the issues and problems arising from ‘lovotics’ (i.e. the study of love and robotics) are undeniable. Falling in love with machines and being comfortable enough around them to not seek human companionship will damage already deteriorating human relationships.

With their high level of intelligence, and willingness to oblige and pay absolute attention, robots would become the benchmarks of a life partner, raising the stakes until it will be impossible for humans to find a partner who matches the perfection of a robot.

A high adaptation rate of sexbots and ‘robophilia’ will reinforce traditional stereotypes of men and women, establishing new standards of love limited to physical relationships.

‘Technosexuality’ would become a more common word and the emergence of ‘digisexuals’ will be unstoppable. While robotic companions could help mitigate loneliness, they may adversely impact our mental health in the long run.

The future is uncertain but there’s sufficient proof of a blooming human-robot love affair – for better or worse. Given how much we relied on the internet and smart machines to get through the lockdowns, lovotics isn’t unimaginable, is it?