Friends are not perfect. Even our closest friends disappoint us at some point or another. When the chips are down and we need our friends the most, we are only fortunate to have one stand with us. For the rest of us, we contend alone having only fair weather friends. Will technology catch up and provide a real friend we can truly rely upon? Perhaps it is not as far away as we may think.
We have entertained the thought of the intelligent machine even before the advent of the super fast computers we can hold in the palm of our hand. Even before the Internet, Captain Kirk was conversing with the ship’s on-board AI. And we all remember Hal from Space Odyssey who developed into a sentient consciousness. As our technology races forward nearly faster than we can keep up, there are only a few hurtles left to overcome to achieve the some semblance of intelligent machines. But could a computer ever really replace a real friend?
Perhaps we need to redefine the term real. Many of us have friends we have never met in person that may live across country or even across the world. Some still regard their in-person friends as real to distinguish them from that of online friends. But, both are real living people with feelings and emotions. We are beginning to evolve our definition of what is real as opposed to virtual.
Now imagine a friend that can think a million times faster than we can, produce any answer to any question we ask in milliseconds, make reservations and pull up a list of mechanics in our area complete with reviews. Can this computer friend replace your living friends? If your answer was no, then why are you staring at your smart phone right now while your living friend is talking to you or sitting across from you?
We already confess we can text in our pockets without the person standing in front of us even knowing we are diverting our attention from them. We interrupt face to face conversations to check our new email or social media notice. The real question is not when will computers ever replace our real friends, but when did you replace your friends with your smart phone and what does that say about you? I’m reminded of my last date who received a text from me that read simply, “Goodbye.” She looked up from her phone to see an empty chair across the dinner table.