February 29, 2024

A 2023 Surgeon General’s report reveals that loneliness has become an epidemic in the United States, posing a serious risk to both individual health and democracy as a whole. To combat this crisis, tech companies are promoting emotionally intelligent chatbots as a solution, but it is unclear if they can truly resolve the deep-seated complexities of loneliness. Two stories are emerging to address the future of AI companionship: one promising love and connection, and the other warning of dehumanizing subjugation, with films such as “Her” depicting a romantic relationship with an AI chatbot and others envisioning a dystopian future. The rise of AI companions also raises ethical concerns, likening AI relationships to patterns of emotional coercion seen in slavery. Without strong historical and cultural understanding, consumers risk being manipulated by corporations promising companionship without human connection. Ultimately, scholars argue that humanity must remember the value of genuine human connection in order to navigate the new digital frontier. Technology may offer a convenient and immature view of human relationships, but it requires the rich depth of human connection to truly thrive.

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