A machine could never lie.
I finally understand the popularity of sci fi narratives about empathy. Initially I’d disdained it as the SFF world over-indexing Artificial Intelligence in its ability to master human value. Empathy is all we have. Today, as in this observable factual date—July 8 2023 at around midnight—I realized that the subtext of computer empathy in sci-fi narratives is not representative of a fear of robots, but is an allegory for real human experience of disassociation. Because a machine with feelings speaks to how baffling it is otherwise, when two humans can have been through the same experience, and have competing memories of it. I don’t just mean a Rashomon-style conflation of narratives. I mean, when someone so close to your experience as to be the experience itself, does not believe what you felt. The narratives compete because someone fights so desperately for the truth to appear one way and the other drowns in the facts. The horror of a person’s denial of an experience becomes unacceptable. It requires a suspension of reality, even a re-designation of a person’s humanity. A machine could never lie.
I was asked to learn and think about parasocial relationships recently, in the context of my cognitive dissonance. I haven’t bothered to read the Atlantic essay—a primary source—but I know the gist is that someone can fall in love with an idea of another person based on a performed persona. Most commonly this refers to celebrity crushes gone beyond mere admiration of photos in the pages of widely distributed magazines or popular social media accounts. But the beloved persona in this parasocial example, still has knowledge and belief in the possibility of a connection, perhaps even compunction and regret; understands the risk of asking the world to fall in love with them.
I ask you to consider a new phrase. The psychotic relationship. One in which a person has carved the word north wherever they need a compass. One in which a shepherd feigns incredulity when sheep appear at his feet, because they would prefer not to hold any responsibility beyond the staff they won’t put down and hand over. The psychotic relationship is a political one. You redline our memories so I live in a neighborhood of your design, and a vote means absolutely nothing.