- Recent technological advances, such as ChatGPT, present technology as more and more human-like.
- Technology's profound impact on humanity has the power to open or close us, unite or divide us.
- The future of humanity is held within each of us.
- Opening your heart in small ways today can have a profound impact on the future of intimacy.
This week, my professional life changed forever. I logged into a prototype language processing tool created by OpenAI called ChatGPT. Unlike anything previously available to the public, this chatbot can answer questions, dialogue with its user, and even write essays. In our first conversation, I asked it to write a blog post on how to increase one’s sex drive. In what couldn’t have been more than 2 seconds, it provided me with an informative and grammatically perfect essay that I would have been proud to post as my own.
I was stunned.
Once the shock dissipated, I emailed the essay to a few sex therapist friends. They, too, were speechless. AI is now writing something as accurate and helpful as those of us with decades of professional experience could produce, and this service is free to the public. Technological advances such as ChatGPT are profoundly exciting and transforming for humanity. Yet, I joked with my friends that we will soon be out of work – and I wasn’t really kidding.
Unable to forget about yesterday’s experience, this morning I asked ChatGPT, “What’s it like to be a female sex therapist?” It responded with several accurate paragraphs, beginning with:
Being a female sex therapist has its unique challenges and rewards. As a woman, I often find that my clients feel more comfortable opening up to me about their sexual experiences and concerns. This can be especially true of female clients who may feel more at east discussing sensitive topics with another woman.
I peruse literature regularly and it’s fair to say that I become aware of new research and technological advancements every week that astound me. For example, just a few days ago I learned that faces created by AI programs (in this case, generative adversarial networks or GAN’s) were more likely to be perceived as real than actual human faces! Combine this with recent research demonstrating AI-created faces were rated as more trustworthy by research participants than real human faces. Putting just these few studies together, it’s obvious that AI is perfecting its ability to appear more human than we are. And the question I’ve been grappling with for years now - what this means for the future of intimacy - seems only more compelling.
In fact, this is quickly becoming less of an interesting question and more of a necessary one. Our ability to form intimate connections separates humanity from technology. Yet statistics consistently suggest that human intimacy is suffering - we are less connected to each other than ever before. We spend less time together and more with our devices. Folks are having less sex, reporting more depression and substance abuse, taking more medications, and reporting more stress and suicidal thoughts than in the past. These trends show no signs of abating, and they are clearly not conditions supportive of intimacy.
Technologies already profoundly impact humanity. They have an ever-increasing capacity to open or close us, to unite or divide us. They offer us experiences and information that greatly enhance our lives. Yet they also offer us information that fill us with rage or fear when confronted daily – if not hourly - with the pain of the world. Emotions like rage and fear cause us to instinctively close in self-protection. Emotional closure feeds isolation and makes intimacy more challenging to achieve. If we continue this path of shutting down, we become less empathic to ourselves and others, and more robotic. In this way, we offer technology the opportunity to become better humans than we are.
Instead, let’s perfect what makes us unique from technology. The power to influence the future of intimacy is held within each of us. The more open our hearts, the more connected we become to ourselves and others, the safer we will feel, and the more open to intimate relationships. Open hearts create opportunities for intimacy. Intimacy allows for giving and receiving love – experiences that enrich our lives with meaning and purpose, and that counteract the impact of challenging emotional states like depression and isolation. Intimacy offers us experiences that, at least for now, technology can’t compete with.
So today, give yourself the gift of taking a step toward opening your heart and enhancing your intimate connections. Even small steps can have profound positive impacts in your world. Give yourself some moments to breathe deeply and allow your body to release tension. Recognize all that you are grateful for. Offer a hug or hold someone’s hand unexpectedly. Look into the eyes of a family member while they speak rather than stare at a phone or computer screen. With each heart-opening gesture, you offer something to yourself or another than technology cannot. With each gesture, you make space for technology’s positive impact on humanity, while limiting its potential for harm.
I wrote this blog post in about 2 hours, not 2 seconds. Is it better than what ChatGPT wrote yesterday? I cannot say that it is. But it’s authentically human. I do hope you’ll join me, while I’ve still got a writing gig, and help compose the future of intimacy.
Huff, C. (2022). Media overload is hurting our mental health. Here are ways to manage headline stress. APA Monitor on Psychology, 53(8), 20.
Nightingale, S. & Farid, H. (2022). AI-synthesized faces are indistinguishable from real faces and more trustworthy. PNAS, 119(8), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2120481119.
Tucciarelli, R., Vehar, N., Chandaria, S. & Tsakiris, M. (2022). On the realness of people who do not exist: The social processing of artificial faces, iScience, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2022.105441.