New homeowners often tell stories about falling in love with their first home. They talk fondly of its attractive entryways, amenities, its location, but rarely will anyone say that they fell in love with their home because of its sense of humour or its intelligence. Well, that’s on the verge of changing. Is it possible to become romantically attached to your house? Smart homes and digital voice assistants are starting to edge their way into many homeowner’s hearts.
We humans tend to find something appealing about a disembodied voice taking care of all our needs, as can be seen with the growing popularity of voice-controlled technology. Whether it’s reciting recipes, streaming music, telling us the time, or reading aloud the morning news, voice assistants like Apple’s Siri have the capacity to make our lives easier. Who doesn’t love that?
It is estimated that over 8 million people now use some type of smart home technology, causing many manufacturers to look for ways to integrate their dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators, televisions and other appliances to voice activated interfaces. The relationship between homeowners and smart technology is full of potential, and looks to be a profitable long-term trend.
The magic behind our attachment to smart home software is artificial intelligence and big data. Since artificial intelligence-driven machines are modeled on the human brain, they are built to mimic our behavioural patterns. Kind of like when romantic partners mirror one another’s body language. But unlike holding hands, artificial intelligence is closer to a Vulcan mind meld. Networks sift through information, parse data and recognize patterns.
With sophisticated pattern recognition comes the ability for voice-controlled digital assistants to “learn” many things about you. Over time, the technology becomes customized to your preferences and behaviour. It will suggest music you might like to hear, movies you might like to see, recipes you may want to try or even the temperature you prefer when you are at home. Keep in mind that digital assistants aren’t relegated to entertainment alone. They have the capacity to intuit your daily needs and remember all sorts of little things even the most dutiful human partner is liable to forget.
At first, some users speak to their voice assistant like a nervous teenager out on a first date. Words are carefully enunciated. Sentences are short. Fortunately, intelligent home assistants are designed to learn and listen to natural spoken language, just like a perfect romantic date. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and their competing cohorts integrate with smart home devices and activate their controls to suit a user’s unique behaviours and habits. With each interaction digital assistants become “smarter” and more compatible with an individual’s lifestyle. Even if the computer software itself isn’t ready to experience real love, it’s important to keep in mind that love comes in many different forms.
If you’re still thinking that it’s ridiculous to fall in love with a disembodied machine voice, think back to the movie Castaway. If Tom Hanks could care deeply for a volleyball, then how is it not possible to love an entity that actually talks back? Or how about a more recent film; in the movie Her, a man begins falling in love with his home operating system. The “romance” happens slowly. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a voice that responds to all of your questions, takes the time to learn all about your preferences and does all it can to assist you with a myriad of tasks?
Though some analysts are wary of human-like AI and others have noted that digital assistants almost always have feminine voices, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll all fall head-over-heels for the AI entity sitting on our kitchen counters. However, as voice recognition improves, more data becomes available and artificial neural networks gain greater sophistication, there remains the possibility that some people may start to seek out AI relationships over risky romances with their own species.
By Emma Bailey