Book explores how tech is changing human intimacy + Chinese working on a Starship

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Chinese Company Claims to be Working on a Starship-Like Rocket

Doubtless adopting the Chinese Communist Party method for technological progress. Plenty easy for them to steal SpaceX's ideas, since the activity isn't behind closed doors.

Sex bots, virtual friends, VR lovers: tech is changing the way we interact, & not always for the better

EXCERPTS: Twenty-first century technologies such as robots, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are creeping into every corner of our social and emotional lives — hacking how we form friendships, build intimacy, fall in love and get off. In a book published today, I consider the possibilities, both terrifying and inspiring, offered by these “artificially intimate” technologies.

On one hand, these tools can help deliver much-needed support. On the other, they risk increasing sexual inequality, and replacing precious in-person interaction with less-than-ideal substitutes.

At first mention of artificial intimacy, many people’s minds may jump straight to sex robots: lifelike robotic sex dolls that could one day walk among us, hard to distinguish from living, breathing, orgasming humans.

But despite the many important questions sex robots raise, they mostly distract from the main game. They are “digital lovers” which — alongside VR porn, AI-enhanced sex toys and cybersex enhanced with haptic and teledildonic devices — constitute just one of three types of artificial intimacy.

The second category, the “algorithmic matchmakers”, match us with dates and hookups through applications such as Tinder and Grindr, or with friends through social media platforms.

Finally, we have “virtual friends” including therapist apps, AI-enhanced game characters and boyfriend/girlfriend chatbots. But by far the most ubiquitous are AI assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Baidu’s DuerOS.

Virtual friends apply several kinds of AI, including machine learning, by which computers learn new ways to identify patterns in data. Machine-learning algorithms are becoming increasingly advanced at sifting through huge amounts of users’ data, and tapping into the unique traits that make us the cooperative, cultural and romantic beings we are. I call these “human algorithms”.

[...] Matchmaker algorithms are already transforming how people screen and meet potential dates. Apps such as Tinder aren’t really effective at matching compatible couples. Instead, they present photographs and minimalist profiles, inviting users to swipe left or right. Their algorithms allow people of more-or-less comparable attractiveness to match and strike up a conversation.

One problem with this model is attractive people have no shortage of matches, but this is at the expense of ordinary-lookers. This type of attraction-based inequality feeds serious problems — from heightened self-sexualisation among women, to a surplus of young, unpartnered men prone to violence.

Good enough? Then again, artificial intimacy also offers solutions. Although people deserve the company of other [real] people, and the best care other (real) humans can offer, many demonstrably can’t access or afford this.

Virtual friends provide connection for the lonely; digital lovers are damming the raging torrent of sexual frustration. A gradual union of the two could eventually provide targeted intimacy and sexual stimulation for people of all genders and sexualities.

People already talk to Siri and Alexa to feel less lonely. Meanwhile, in a climate of unmet demand for mental health support, therapy bots are listening to patients, advising them and even walking them through psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

The quality of such connection and stimulation might not be a complete substitute for the “real thing”. But for those of us who find the real thing elusive or insufficient, it could prove far better than nothing... (MORE - details)

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