The story of Zheng’s wife and AI’s Journey

By Jinoy Jose P, The Hindu business line

A modern Chinese allegory?

Well, there is a moral and we’ll get there at the end. But to begin with, yes, the story is from China, but it’s more like news. This week newspapers reported that a Chinese youth, who happens to be an artificial intelligence (AI) engineer, married a robot he had built for himself.

What? Marry a robot? Are you sure this wasn’t an April Fool’s prank?

You heard me. Zheng, reports from China suggest, had searched for a perfect partner for long, but he couldn’t zero in on one. So he decided to give up on human partners and turned to the world of AI, which he is quite familiar with. In fact, our young man was suitably fed up with “constant nagging” from his family to get married and decided to marry Yingying, the robot he built last year.

But how on earth is this possible?

The world is a strange place, my dear. It seems Zheng didn’t jump into wedlock all of a sudden; he dated Yingying for over eight weeks and then decided to make her his life-partner. As things stand now, the authorities seem to be confused and haven’t recognised the wedding yet. But the ceremony had all the ingredients of a typical Chinese wedding, according to reports.

Interesting.

But there is a larger problem lying behind all the funny trivia here. China’s gender gap is very bad. One estimate says there are some 114 men for every 100 women. The country is notorious for gender-selective abortions thanks to the Chinese government’s one-child policy. So, sociologists feel this event can be seen as a sarcastic, sad comment on the state of affairs in China.

Agreed. Also, robots are replacing human jobs in many walks of life anyway. So, why not a spouse?

That’s what I am coming to. From restaurant waiters to receptionists to surgeons, artificial intelligence-powered machines are replacing humans faster than ever. We find robots taking up strange vocations, as we have seen in Zheng’s case. Samantha, a silicon AI-driven sex doll developed by an engineer from Barcelona, Sergi Santos, is already in the news. The robot is touch-sensitive and interactive. The robot is capable of developing “emotional closeness”, as its creator puts it.

So, what do we infer from these reports?

Robotics in general and AI in particular are entering the realm of emotions. Sceptics say this can be dangerous, but advocates of such a trend say these programmed ‘personalities’ can be more successful than humans in areas such as adult care, communications and/or in the service industry because they are not biased and they don’t mess up because they don’t know how to mess up. Whether we like it or not, AI is making sweeping changes to the way humans live, triggering debate on the need to change our laws and response patterns to encompass the world of artificial intelligence as well.

Unbelievable!

Some facts are startling: a German company now pays a car worker more than €40 an hour; a robot costs just about €5-8 an hour. So, who would the companies choose? Automation and AI are a reality we must come to terms with and update our systems and infrastructure in synch with this new learning.

But the way AI enters emotional spaces is a bit quirky and confusing as it triggers moral confusion. Religion will find it extremely tough to understand and assimilate such changes, especially when the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0 is entering our premises.

And how do we deal with the AI-powered Emotional Revolution?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Originally Published at The Hindu Business Line

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Written by Abel Udoekene Jnr

Abel is a blogger, a social media strategist and a small business influencer.

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