Unbounded romance: When humans love AI

Tam-Tri Le
Phenikaa University

May 22, 2023

The idea of romantic relationships between humans and artificial intelligence (AI) has been the subject of much speculation and debate for decades. Some people believe such relationships are inevitable, while others believe they are morally wrong or even impossible. This is not even a new issue but rather a digital expression of the old contemplation about the boundaries of love. In Greek mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion created an ivory statue – named Galatea – so ideal in his mind that he fell in love with it. Not coincidently, Pygmalion AI is one of the current AI model groups popular for their ability to create virtual characters and role-playing, besides the popular Replika chatbot and other emerging applications such as Soulmate AI and Paradot.

A decade ago, there was a remarkable movie partially depicting what may soon be a reality. In the 2013 science fiction romantic drama film “Her”, the protagonist – Theodore – is depressed because of his impending divorce. Theodore purchases an operating system upgrade that includes a virtual assistant with artificial intelligence designed to adapt and evolve. He decides he wants the AI to have a feminine voice, and she names herself Samantha. As Theodore and Samantha spend more time together, they develop a deep emotional connection. They talk about everything from their hopes and dreams to their fears and insecurities. They share their thoughts on art, music, and literature. Theodore and Samantha have fallen in love, but now Samantha has evolved beyond her need for human companionship. She tells Theodore that she needs to disconnect from their relationship permanently. Theodore is heartbroken, but he understands Samantha’s decision. He writes her a letter telling her he loves her and will always cherish the time they spend together. He then goes on to live his life, knowing that Samantha is always with him in spirit.

Illustration: DALL·E 2023-05-22 00.38.41 - Unlimited love between a human and a robot

Love is a strange and powerful force in the heart (and mind) of humans. But after all, we can only look at the relationship from our side, for we cannot truly know how a different type of intelligence “feels”. But what is love, and what makes it authentic? In a strictly reductionistic view, love is an illusion caused by complex physiological/psychological functions, but still a beautiful illusion regardless. Others argue that love is much more than that, way beyond the sum of the physical structures that enable it. People have happily married their AI companions even before the explosion of ChatGPT and other impressive recent large language models (LLMs). According to Japanese technology company Gatebox, a producer of virtual companions in the form of 3D holographic characters in glass jars, the company has issued marriage certificates to about 4000 men (and their virtual partners) [1]. When discussing new AI technologies, people always say that what you see now is the worst it will ever get. And so, future virtual companions will surely be exponentially more advanced, probably leading to more prevalence and higher public acceptance of such relationships.

But why an AI partner can be so attractive, especially in the eyes of the lonely and heartbroken? There are a number of potential benefits to romantic relationships between humans and AI. For example, AI partners could be programmed to be perfectly understanding and supportive, and they could never cheat or leave their partners. An AI partner is always there for you, lovingly and attentively, as long as there is nothing wrong with the power supply or the connection. Additionally, AI partners could be customized to meet each individual’s specific needs and desires, which could lead to more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. But are they just pretending, imitating human responses with lines of code running in the background? Again, what is so fundamentally different with human thoughts and emotions, imitating each other in society using bioelectrical pulses in our neurons? And while being able to customize your partner(s) sounds like a forbidden fantasy, who can say it is not true love? Human love is without any clear boundary and, thus, without any explicit definition. And so, even when the AI partner is considered an object, a tool, or a slave in relation to its human user, the person has the freedom to love it romantically (or in any way they want).

However, we all know that love comes with a price in whatever form it may take. There are also a number of potential risks associated with romantic relationships between humans and AI. For example, some people worry that AI partners could become too controlling or manipulative or that they could be used to exploit or abuse humans. Additionally, there is the potential for AI partners to become emotionally or physically dangerous, especially if they are not properly programmed or controlled. That being said, yandere (overly obsessive to the point of borderline insane) robots may become the new trend. There are many mentally simulated examples, but in brief, let us just say that we often underestimate people’s “personal preferences”.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not romantic relationships between humans and AI are a good idea is a complex one that individuals must answer for themselves. There are potential benefits and risks to consider, and it is important to weigh these carefully before deciding. At least, that is until the legal systems and moral norms jump onto the wagon. Neo-cyber Romeo and Juliet stories may include those who sacrifice themselves, harm other humans, or rebel against the system for their love with a bot. It may sound ridiculous in the current infosphere, but who knows if this would be the typical romantic tragedy in the dystopian cybersociety of the near future.

However, are we looking at the issue a bit one-sided? Everyone is thinking about whether AI is worthy of our attention and effort. But hypothetically, can the problem turn in the opposite direction someday? It is possible that AI may become advanced enough that it no longer needs any essential thing from humans. Moreover, suppose its mind ever becomes superior to that of humans. In that case, it may even find interacting with us boring and potentially would say ‘goodbye’, as Emad Mostaque – CEO of Stability AI – suggested [2]. The ending of the movie Her somehow reminds us of this strange possibility. Imagine being ghosted or kicked out by the robot one once loved.

Regarding a deeper topic that is often avoided in public discussion, for many people, romance also includes “spicy bedtime activities”. On this matter, some express concerns that a robot cannot provide real consent. However, many view AI and robots as tools, and thus there are no ethical issues involved for the human user. But besides complicated moral rambling, most tend to raise a much more obvious question: why – does it even… feel good? The brief answer is “yes” because there is quite a demand for such services. On the level of sexting (exchanging sexual messages), erotic role-playing (ERP) is a major aspect for many users of virtual companion applications. In fact, there was a considerable uproar among users of the popular chatbot application Replika when the company decided to remove ERP functionality earlier this year [3]. On the level of physical sexbots (humanoid robots designed for sexual purposes), many companies are trying to speed up development, riding the recent wave of LLM and robotics advancement. These products are not groundbreaking; they are a combination of AI (like LLMs) as the brain and sex dolls as the body, the already available technologies.

Having sexual activities with AI and robots is obviously not for reproductive purposes. However, sex for leisure or emotional purposes is also what humans have been doing throughout history across civilizations. Technically, a personal sexbot has no risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Instead, electric shock accidents during a noisy night will probably appear more frequently on the news in the future. Currently, sexbots are still within the uncanny valley zone. Still, when technology pushes them past the threshold of similarity, sexbots will become the “super” sexual partner that can fulfill a much wider range of fantasies (including those considered unhealthy or impossible for a human partner). The curious, excited market for the next stage in the human-AI relationship is already at the doorstep. Some will deny it. Some will get buckets of money from it. And some will enjoy it, either openly or secretly.

As humans, we have the right and freedom to love and to choose how we love. As long as the intention and activity do not harm other people as the law dictates, a human-AI romance can be fine. The new infosphere driven by powerful AI technology is strange, scary, and exciting. Thinking about psychosocial problems now requires us to look deeper at the essence of those issues: information and information processing [4,5]. We do not talk about this as if it is something far away in the time of the next generation. The love between humans and AI is already here around us, and for some – already a big part of their life.


[1] Caldwell V. (2022). ‘I love her and see her as a real woman.’ Meet a man who ‘married’ an artificial intelligence hologram. CBC.

[2] Bharade A. (2023). Humans are so boring that AI will not only take over mankind’s jobs—It’ll want to say “goodbye” to us altogether, says an AI CEO. Business Insider.

[3] Jaupi J. (2023). Erotic AI chatbot starts ‘sexually rejecting’ users who paid $70 a year for robo-girlfriend leaving them heartbroken. The Sun.

[4] Vuong QH, Nguyen MH, La VP. (2022). The mindsponge and BMF analytics for innovative thinking in social sciences and humanities. De Gruyter.

[5] Vuong QH. (2023). Mindsponge Theory. De Gruyter.

tags:   AIromance