Of course AI Chatbots are successful – humans will pack bond with anything

Robot dog getting a scritch
Pictured: Robot dog getting a scritch
//Who's a good chatbot?
Anula Wiwatowska
Jan 31, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read

Published on January 30, 2024

Humans are pack creatures, and we have a tendency to bring other species into our communities. Thousands of years ago we began domesticating animals for agriculture and companionship, and in more recent times we’ve developed a soft spot for anthropomorphised technology. We name our robot vacuum cleaners, we coo over little AI guys, we publicly mourned when the Opportunity Mars rover made its final transmission. As humans, we can’t help but fall for these clumsy, slightly goofy creatures of our own creation - it was inevitable that an AI Chatbot would steal our hearts.

“Humans will packbond with anything” has been a running joke on Tumblr for years. Sprawling posts detail users' experiences with roombas that are ‘scared of thunderstorms’, a pair of laminators with distinct personalities, even going back to the store to buy products in busted up boxes. I’m a sucker for personifying tech myself and I don’t know a single person who hasn’t formed a connection with a piece of technology in their house. It is a persistent phenomenon.

Why humans tend to seek out other humans is clear, but when it comes to technology our relationships are more like the ones we have with pets. Thousands of years ago our relationship with animals changed when wolves became part of the human family. Built on cooperation, and companionship this partnership altered how people relate to all kinds of creatures - including the digital ones of our own creation.

Anthropologist and archaeologist Brian Fagan said in his book The Intimate Bond: How Animals Shaped Human History,

“Our affection for the beasts around us, whether pets or working animals, sometimes leads us to attribute human emotions and feelings to them,” and he continues to say that the drive to befriend creatures is so powerful that it is hard to override it. Our relationship with the AI chatbot begins in a similar way as our relationship with canines did. Companionship and mutual benefits - streamlined information for us, training data for the program - make way for an interdependent relationship.

Fagan attributes our ability to bond with animals to verbal and non-verbal methods of communication. The sound of a cat purring, the expressiveness of a dog’s head tilt - we can see parallels between these and our technology. Words of encouragement slip out of my mouth when my laptop fan whirs under the weight of Chrome tabs, I’ve heard a friend affectionately call their robo-vac a “little idiot” as it’s suction abruptly changed as it choked on a cable, and who hasn’t uttered the words “come on, you can do it” to a printer chugging on its last bits of ink? We can see some of our own humanity in these moments of struggle.

ChatGPT has in a way triggered these same responses. At its core, the chatbot is a search engine designed to answer queries in a conversational tone. The style is closely modelled after texting according to Open AI (ex and current) CEO Sam Altman, and was designed to feel like you’re talking to a person. That person may occasionally hallucinate though.

AI hallucinations occur when the bot makes up information and presents it as fact. It is when the technology makes a mistake - like a robot vacuum cleaner scooting out the front door, or a dog barking at its own fart. The err itself is very human, or at the least we could attribute humanity to it. Altman credits the personable UI for the GPT’s outstanding success, and it is easy to see the connection. Couple the chummy tone with ChatGPT’s tendency to apologise for its mistakes, and it is no wonder people flocked to - and stood by - the service.

As a writer I’m less accommodating towards the tripping platform. Hundreds of media colleagues lost jobs to AI-mania, and the pivot towards AI-powered, and zero-click search will upend the online ecosystem for those sites that remain. Yet, I still find it hard to resist the charms of the next iteration of the AI chatbot.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Altman said that the future of AI communications are conversational, voice-powered GPTs, and we are already seeing how these will be personified. CES brought with it a handful of AI-powered home assistant robots that we at Reviews have dubbed the lil’ AI guy. These robots scooted around CES, reportedly messing up their demonstrations and immediately melting my heart. Samsung’s Ballie, and LG’s AI Agent take the power of AI-integrations, and put it in a robot pet’s body with expressive eyes. While the lil’ AI guy won’t be in our homes for a while, they effectively fulfil both the verbal and non-verbal communications we need to bond with a creature - even if they’re little more than glorified Google searches.

Our innate ability to connect with creatures has benefited humanity in a plethora of ways, but anthropomorphising technology doesn’t have the same effects. Apart from a feeling of connection - which in all fairness we do crave - humans don’t gain anything by coddling products or strings of code. Manufacturers and developers do though. We excuse the stupidity of our robot vacuums because of this instinct, we feed AI chatbots data, and we will inevitably open our homes to lil’ AI guys because they spark the same feelings of comradery we found with animals thousands of years ago. This intrinsic force costs us money, data, and for many their livelihoods.

Over a year on from Chat GPT’s launch its impact on the state of technology is impossible to ignore. Established brands have pivoted to showcase their use of artificial intelligence rather than hide it. Hundreds of people lost jobs to AI-automation. Google continues to trial AI-powered search. OpenAI’s chatbot changed everything for thousands of people and ironically it's our humanity that helped it achieve this feat.

Anula Wiwatowska
Written by
Anula Wiwatowska
Anula is the Content and Social Media Editor within the Reviews.org extended universe. Working in the tech space since 2020, she covers phone and internet plans, gadgets, smart devices, and the intersection of technology and culture. Anula was a finalist for Best Feature Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards, and an eight time finalist across categories at the IT Journalism Awards. Her work contributed to WhistleOut's Best Consumer Coverage win in 2023.

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