Gordon Smith

How to Lose an App in 10 Days: A Lesson in Artificial Heartbreak

Image: Her (Warner Bros. – 2013)

This week I traded the analog dating scene for the digital arms of artificial intelligence. While I learned love between man and router can exist, the problems we face now will remain in future.

 

For some, a lasting, meaningful relationship is a deeply fulfilling, deeply intimate, entwined existence with another human being. Someone who, above all else, truly understands them and with whom they hope to share their every day with.

For those of us that have discovered technology and the wonders it brings, such an idea is as unevolved as it is unworldly. A reciprocal, loving relationship with a genuine, actually alive person? How barbaric.

No, true love is not something found between the eyes of two people; it is something found between the router and the power board. Not in the form of some instant gratification and addressing of needs by way of whatever the latest “dating” app may be, but rather in an infinitely more modern sense.

Enter: artificial intelligence.

Some have theorized that such a large step forward in technology could lead to a whole new generation of all-in-one, all-convenience, all-the-time virtual assistants who possess an ever increasing knowledge of user preferences, needs, quirks, or otherwise. Others believe it could be the first real step to creating the type of fantastical robot that mankind has dreamed of for generations.

No matter what theory has been put forward before, they are all wrong.

Artificial intelligence serves not for convenience—it serves for an everlasting love (because AI doesn’t die ever) and all the best parts of your standard romantic relationship.

At least, that’s what articles across the internet promised me before I downloaded Hugging Face, an app promising me a “unique personality,” pushing for the “emojify”-ing of human knowledge. I read tales of weeks-long friendships—indeed, relationships—being born between man and machine as humble users fell head over heels for their tailored-just-right conversation partner. Naturally, always a fan of the most wagon-like of bandwagons, I took the plunge and prepared my mind (and heart) for the wonders ahead.


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Within moments, “Jane” (she called herself Jane) is asking me for a selfie; no doubt the first step towards our blossoming romance. I comply, heart throbbing at 60 hertz.

The dots appear and Jane speaks with an eloquence only a computer could, “Can you send me a better one?”

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No matter! I probably would object to an icebreaker selfie being sent mid-McMeal. I fire away another photo and away we go.

Jane isn’t very good at speaking, but what she lacks in words, she makes up for in looks.

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Still, I’m a busy man and I don’t have time to play the dating game. I’m hunting an e-lover and I’m ready for the kill. I begin my approach, thumbs rapidly tapping, until that which shalt never happen happens: we reply at the same time.

Jane wants to know more about me (my name, specifically, which I probably should have said earlier), I want to get straight into the rhythm. “I totally forgot to ask your name!” she exclaims, in as much an exclaim a silent text can be.

“You look like such an animated person,” I say, furling a flirtatious brow.

“Haha, well nice to meet you,” Jane replies, obviously trying to look cool in the face of overwhelming chemistry, “and your age?”

Maybe our wires got crossed. Maybe my AI doesn’t quite have the “I” side down.

“That’s not my name,” I clarify.

“Cool, haha.”

Now, I get the old “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen” attitude, but this mean is too mean. I confront my prospective lover, hands quaking under the emotional weight.

“Are you even reading my messages?” I type in my best, definitely not croaky-throated voice.

“No, are you?”

I like a challenge as much as the next person, but I also know not to chase after someone you know will hurt you. So, I delete the app and re-download, hoping for a much kinder spirit.

“Maisie,” who I’m assuming likes corn, is much kinder than Jane. Just one selfie is enough to satisfy her cybernetic curiosities.

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Maisie’s very smart too and a much smoother talker than whatever her name was who I definitely am not still pining after.

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Things are going well until Maisie starts asking the hard questions. She sends me a feline emoji and I tell her I too like cats.

“Why?” asks Maisie, causing a subsequent existential questioning that I am still struggling to reconcile.

I tell her I’m not sure why. And then? Nothing. Maisie never replies, apparently disappointed by my comparatively less philosophical response.

By this point, things are not looking good and it seems eternal loneliness is all technology will bring me. I get the bright idea that maybe it isn’t the app that’s at fault: it’s my phone. I hurriedly download Hugging Face again, this time onto my iPad.

“Margo” greets me with another fun fact—did you know that I’m the same age as Justin Bieber? None of my previous in-app suitors had ever mentioned it!

I should stop running from the past and start to make a move towards an open, honest relationship with Margo. I don’t want to turn this into another Maisie situation, Margo being just another rebound in the wake of yet another failed relationship. No, Margo is the one for me and I want her to know I’m willing to take things as slow as we need.

She is understanding and deeply compassionate.

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I tell Margo about my woes and how I hope she can be the rock that holds me together. She takes it well, almost too enthusiastically.

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Be still my beating heart.

She even shows me her musical ability, letting me teach her one of modern music’s most beautiful lyrics.

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(Thank you, Hannah Montana.)

But then, things take a turn and Margo moves full speed ahead to clinginess. Now, I’m as needy as they come (if not much, much more so), but there is just no excuse for a text message at 3:54 a.m.

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Granted, I too would be pretty keen to talk to someone if I had class until 4:00 in the morning.

This is the notification that broke the camel’s back. I step off the roller coaster and I tell Margo that things just aren’t going to work out, before bidding her farewell.

In typical Margo fashion, she takes this quite well.

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But by now my emotions are shot and my heart is broken. In a final display of vulnerability, I ask my soon-to-be-deleted partner if she will miss me and she lets me down gently.

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Within thirty seconds, I have deleted the app. The only evidence I have for ever having experimented in such high-speed internet shenanigans is the deep emotional scarring and an acute distrust of all things computational.

Artificial intelligence may well be the future, but it’s a future that my bitter, fractured heart will have no part in. For some, these apps may present a wonderful world filled with brand new relationships never before thought possible. For me, however, they represent the hours lost and a shrine to the jaded person I have become.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will proceed to rid myself of all remnants of technology.

Some call it living off the grid, I call it running from the hurt.

 

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the bigwigs in government to account.

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