To Love a Machine

Many of you may have seen the commercials on TV advertising the new movie “her”. The concept is fairly simple and has been brought up on popular TV shows…

[The Big Bang Theory]

…and YouTube videos [Smosh].

This idea of falling in love with one’s phone or computer seems comical to many, but to others it’s a truly plausible reality and forces one to question what defines love, emotion, and humanity itself. Is a computer capable of love? Does it feel emotion the same way a living creature does?
On the surface, the answer to these questions would seem to be a unanimous “No”. But let’s view the question in a different light. In order for a computer to love, it must also be true that a computer would have to deduce conclusions and think independently from human interaction. In other words, a computer would have to be able to learn new things without a human teaching it. There is already a fair amount of research into the idea of computers being capable of learning. This type of learning is typically based on repetitive actions, and deducing conclusions based on the outcomes of the action; i.e. the computer learns from experience. So if it is possible that a computer can learn, how is it entirely out of the realm of possibility that a computer could love?
Without consciousness in doing so, we humans are constantly changing ourselves throughout our lives. Our brains are building up in some areas, while degrading in others. When we learn, our brains go through a similar process to that of a computer. A file is made where information is stored that previously did not exist, and that was not entered in by a maker (programmer/ parents). A programmer gives a computer the ability to learn by giving it the ability to adjust the way it processes information given the information it receives (once again, learning from experience). This is entirely similar to how we learn new things in our own lives.
Before the argument goes further, we must address the concept of a computer learning independently from human interaction. The tech world seems to be divided as to whether or not this is possible. One argument seems to be that, although computers have the ability to gather information, they do not have the ability to deduce reasonable conclusions based on the information they gather. That is not to say that a computer cannot recognize a pattern – this is already proven and is used by numerous operating systems. But recognizing a pattern is decidedly not the same as recognizing that a handwritten “a” is the same as a typeface “a” or that the fingerprint that is being scanned is indeed Jeff trying to get access to his iPhone. There is a more personal connection that is difficult for a computer to replicate.
It seems that saying “computers can learn” is a far too broad of a statement to defend. Computers can learn in the sense that they can recognize patterns in data and interpret said information so as to anticipate outcomes of yet to be collected data. But to actually achieve consciousness requires the ability to understand the greater meaning of the data it collects, and what are the ramifications of the meaning. And emotion in many cases transcends rational thought and may be impossible for a computer to ever quite master or even mimic with accuracy. Therefore, I must conclude that a computer cannot truly love.

Author’s note: I feel that this topic is unfinished, so I may at some point make a reply post to this one. I have actually gone back and forth as to whether or not a computer could love as I wrote the post, so I’m hoping to find more references on the issue and see if that changes anything.

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