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Cyber Animism: The Art of Being Alive in Hybrid Society

Cyber Animism: The Art of Being Alive in Hybrid Society

How do you relate to your electronic devices and your technology?

In our home, we treat Alexa and our robot vacuum like living things.

We do this unconsciously as it allows us to relate in some way to these things.

We have bonded to these non-living objects.

With AI and other human-like robots in development, how will our relationships continue to evolve?


Cyber Animism by Joscha Bach


"This is a 1-hour 45-minute talk by Joscha Bach (http://bach.ai/) given in our Center." from the video introduction


Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech

"When Alexa replied to my question about the weather by tacking on ‘Have a nice day,’ I immediately shot back ‘You too,’ and then stared into space, slightly embarrassed. I also found myself spontaneously shouting words of encouragement to ‘Robbie’ my Roomba vacuum as I saw him passing down the hallway. And recently in Berkeley, California, a group of us on the sidewalk gathered around a cute four-wheeled KiwiBot – an autonomous food-delivery robot waiting for the traffic light to change. Some of us instinctively started talking to it in the sing-song voice you might use with a dog or a baby: ‘Who’s a good boy?’

We’re witnessing a major shift in traditional social life, but it’s not because we’re always online, or because our tech is becoming conscious, or because we’re getting AI lovers like Samantha in Spike Jonze’s film Her (2013). To the contrary, we’re learning that humans can bond, form attachments and dedicate themselves to non-conscious objects or lifeless things with shocking ease. Our social emotions are now being hijacked by non-agents or jabbering objects such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson, and we’re finding it effortless, comfortable and satisfying.

The sophistication level of human-like simulation that AI needs in order to elicit our empathy and emotional entanglement is ridiculously low. A Japanese study in 2008 showed that elderly residents of a senior care home were quickly drawn into substantial social interactions with a rudimentary, toy-like robot seal named ‘Paro’. The seniors experienced increased motor and emotional stimulation with the bot, but also increased social interactions with each other regarding Paro. Tests showed that the reactions of the seniors’ vital organs to stress improved after the introduction of the robot. And in a test in 2018 at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, researchers built robots that administered ‘soft-warm hugs’ to people, who reported feeling trust and affection for the robot – even saying that they felt ‘understood by’ the robot. The point is not that robots are now such convincing counterfeit persons that we’re falling into relationships with them. It’s that humans are suckers for any vague sign of social connection. All of us are a hair’s breadth away from Tom Hanks’s character in Cast Away (2000), who forges a deep bond with a volleyball he names Wilson..." from the article: Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech


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