I'm really feeling it!
I'm really feeling it!
Illustration for article titled Her and the Paradox of Fake Emotions

In 2013, film director Spike Jonze released “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix. The film made viewers ponder questions like: How do you define love? And made them think about what love means in the modern world. But one scene in particular made me wonder if there really is such a thing as “fake” emotions.

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The scene in question involves the main character meeting with his estranged wife to sign divorce papers. She asks if he’s started seeing anybody and he tells her about the relationship he developed with an advanced operating system / artificial intelligence named, Samantha. This revelation upsets her, and she accuses him of not being able to handle real emotions.

What did she mean by “real” emotions? Are there such things as “fake” emotions? Emotions are feelings a sentient being experiences due to chemical reactions in the brain. They can be triggered by a host of different stimuli, and not always from another person. People feel emotions when they’re told fictional stories, for example. Films like Bambi, The Green Mile, and October Sky made people burst into real, salty, wet tears. So no matter what causes it, if the emotions are felt, then how could you possibly call it fake?

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If we attempt to understand what the main character’s ex-wife meant by “real” emotions, then as is tradition with human beings, we inevitably enter the world of subjectivity.

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That is what she tells Joaquin Phoenix later on in the scene. You could say that she’s invalidating all the experiences he’s had with the operating system. That since these emotions came about from something other than a human being, then they might as well have never happened at all. But that would be completely unreasonable.

Instead you could say that due to him not having to encounter the same challenges as with a human spouse, then in her opinion, his emotions and relationship is rendered invalid. Perhaps she believes that positive emotions can only be real if coupled with negative ones. That if you don’t feel pain and suffering, then whatever joy and happiness you feel is an illusion.

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Although it’s not like the main character’s relationship with the OS was devoid of challenges. If you’ve seen the film then you’d know that they mainly involved the AI not having a physical body.

This brings up a sticky situation, because there are people who have a sexual orientation we call “objectophilia.” These are people who feel sexual and/or romantic attraction towards inanimate objects. A woman named, Erika Eiffel famously married the Eiffel Tower. So obviously objectophiliacs are feeling emotions too and I can’t call them fake. We can classify it as a mental disorder if we really wanted to, but since the condition doesn’t inherently hurt anyone, we tend to give it a pass. The relentless mockery notwithstanding.

I think about sex robots quite frequently, but not in the way you might think. Compared to what we envision, the current technology is very primitive. But it is widely believed that the technology will eventually advance to a point where they are nearly or completely indistinguishable from a human being. But it is also believed that the technology will continue to advance to the point where the sexual experiences with an android is far superior to any human.

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Once these milestones are reached and the technology becomes widely available and affordable, I believe that the societal, cultural, and political impact they will have will be extremely significant. I often think about the changes we can expect, and how differently we may interact with one another. But of course, such things are very difficult to predict.

Many unanswered questions remain. If you’re in a relationship with a human, is it considered cheating? If you’re having sex with a construct, then isn’t it technically masturbation? If, due to the pleasure, you develop an emotional attachment, have you effectively developed into an objectophiliac? If the android is equipped with an artificial intelligence as advanced as the one portrayed in the film, then what?

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I supposed these questions will be answered sooner or later. Because rest assured, they are coming (pun very much intended), and we can’t stop it. One person said it best, when commenting a story concerning a group that wanted to prevent the emergence of sex robots. “You are trying to stop the most unstoppable force in human history.”

But until then the adult entertainment industry and other forms of sex work will remain populated primarily by human beings. Pornographic actors, prostitutes, strippers, and cam models combined are multi-billion dollar industries. There’s no shortage of horny and lonely people in the world. The same way there’s no shortage of bored people in the world, which explains the video game industry for instance.

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Strippers and cam models stand out due to the emotional support they can sometimes provide their customers. I’ve heard a few people mention that strippers have helped them through a break-up. Cam models can often cultivate very loyal followers. The followers donate, view the show and in exchange, they feel better physically but also emotionally from the model interacting with the audience. I’ve even seen interviews with cam models who claim that some of their viewers donate to them even when they take days off.

They may not mean everything they say and in their heart of hearts their followers probably know that. Regardless, the cam model’s sincerity may be fake, but the emotions it elicited in the follower are real.

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Sex workers fill a hole in society that must remained filled, but not too stretched. If too much of the population turn to them for sexual and emotional gratification, then the girth is simply too much, and we’ll end up with quite a mess on our hands. Perhaps society does have a problem of too many people lacking in emotional health. And perhaps paying money for it is only a band-aid on the real issues. But I certainly have no clue how to solve it, and until someone comes along who does, we’d best keep the band-aid, lest we get an infection.

Papito Qinn is into the whole YouTube thing, is the winner of the 2016 SpookTAYcular Scary Story Contest, and a twitter incompetent. “I discovered the term incel over a decade ago as a horny teenager. Then there was that incident that made the term mainstream. But at the same time, the definition of the word changed. Quite fascinating.”

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