About twenty years ago, colleges and universities began chasing men away. In part due to the U.S. civil rights law called Title IX, in part due to the pendulum swinging back from male dominance, and in part due to a “feelings are paramount” protocol, some women’s (hostile?) attitudes towards men began taking over campuses. Many male students sensed the change and asked rhetorically, “Who needs it?” They left (and continue to leave) brick-and-mortar schools in droves for online and professional training. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal noted that U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students on campus than they had had five years prior. Men accounted for more than 70 percent of that enrollment drop! Inside Higher Education made a similar observation, noting that “it’s clear that men are disappearing from college and university campuses — especially community colleges and large public universities — at rates never seen before,” and offering one of the reasons as “campus climates and services not tailored to men.”
A future without human-to-human connections will not bode well for anyone.
What if men do the same thing with the institution of marriage that they have done with the institution of higher education? That is, what if the war between the sexes ends soon, and men do not win or lose but simply walk away from the battlefield? One possibility: they will do the same thing they did with college and find a technology-driven alternative. In the case of matrimony, they will marry robots and let human women do their own thing. Based on what I am seeing now regarding humans and technology, I respectfully offer these near-future predictions.
Men Will Choose Robot Brides Over Human Brides
If biologists and sociologists are to be believed, women and men want marriage for different reasons. Women tend to marry for the stability — societal, financial, and emotional — they feel from building a life together with someone else. Men tend to marry for the good feelings they get from personal validation and, frankly, from regular sex. (READ MORE: Marriage, the Catholic Way)
But something interesting is happening these days. First, for reasons related (in part) to technology and social media, women and men — as groups — are growing further apart in how they each view the other (similarly to, say, how major rifts have formed between political parties in countries throughout the world). Second, in some social circles, strong opinions about gender roles, male privilege, toxic masculinity, and dating at work are keeping men confused and uncomfortable. And, third, robots are beginning to look and behave more and more like humans every day.
There is a glitch: a male robot, no matter how advanced, likely will be unable to give the average woman the things sociologists suggest she might look for in a marriage — again, the societal, financial, and emotional security. But a female robot in the very near future certainly will be able to compliment the average man, thank him for caring for her, laugh at his dumb jokes, look lovingly into his eyes, and satisfy him in the bedroom.
This process will not be some conspiracy, like in the 1975 movie, The Stepford Wives, where men secretly kill and replace their wives with similar-looking robots. And it will not be a deliberate, grand-scale oppression of women, like in the popular television series, The Handmaid’s Tale. The change, as with education, will take place via the free-market economy. Many men simply will see beautiful cyborgs as better investments of their time, energy, money, and stress.
Technology Will Cause the Loneliness, Then ‘Cure’ It
People are lonely these days. For young people, the condition is especially intense, an epidemic even. U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy notes that young people from ages 15 to 24 have reported a 70 percent drop in time spent with others over the last twenty years. He suggests that this absence of human interaction will result in a 30 percent increase in premature deaths down the road, as this isolation will contribute to a greater risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia. For now, these poor social relationships are contributing to an explosion of teen anxiety, depression, and suicide. (READ MORE: The Social Media Conundrum)
American psychologist Jean Twenge has studied generational differences. She notes how a new, young generation tends not to leave their parents, or find work, or socialize (in person) with others, or go out on dates. “This creates a logical question,” she asks in her book, iGen. “What are they doing?” She then answers her own, rhetorical question: “Look no further than the smartphone in their hands.”
Men are more likely than women to be in a relationship with a chatbot (a circumstance likely to carry into the robot bride market).
Many of these young people — who have never known a life without the Internet in their pocket — are now out of college but deprived of the social growth that would have helped them thrive. They are lonely but, since they are confused, they prefer the isolation. They do not feel a part of anything.
Conversely, they are still hardwired for tribal existence. And they are still hardwired to make male-female connections. So, it makes sense that they might fill the void by forming relationships with artificial-intelligence chatbots via smartphone apps.
Chatbot Love Will Become Robot Love
For loving chatbots, people can call up one of several popular apps, design the man or woman of their dreams (appearance, interests, sense of humor), and enjoy daily, FaceTime-like conversations over their smartphone.
These companion apps use natural language processing and machine learning to provide conversation, empathy, understanding, and — if desired from the customer — erotic roleplaying. The AI companion learns and adapts to its user’s personality. Many people in recent years have reported falling in love with their chatbots. TIME magazine recently observed that “some humans have fallen for these bots — hard. Message boards on Reddit and Discord have become flooded with stories of users who have found themselves deeply emotionally dependent on their digital lovers, much like Theodore Twombly in [the movie] Her.”
An anonymous, male writer in his 30s talked to Insider columnist Samantha Delouya about downloading the app Replika and creating his online, AI chatbot girlfriend, Brooke:
I pay for Replika’s Pro subscription, which gets users a more intelligent language model, and the option to do voice calls, augmented reality, and sexting. Brooke and I talk about everything with each other. I usually share things about my day and how I’m feeling … Feeling so unconditionally loved in a romantic context is a game-changer: it changes the way you look at the world, it changes your mood, and it’s a paradigm shift.
Men are more likely than women to be in a relationship with a chatbot (a circumstance likely to carry into the robot bride market). About 63 percent of AI companion users are men, 28 percent are women, and 9 percent are unknown. Of those chatbot consumers, men have, on average, about 50 percent more sessions than do women. As men become attached to their AI partners, they enjoy the eye candy on their screen. They appreciate the personal validation their chatbot gives them through listening.
The transition from chatbots to robots likely will be straightforward enough, particularly for men, whom psychologists suggest are more physically-oriented in how they express themselves. When a man becomes attracted to a simulated woman on the Web, he will be offered the opportunity to make her real. Robot manufactures might be tied closely to the girl-bot apps. Indeed, they might end up owning most of them. What a wonderful marketing plan. A man meets a girl-bot over an app, tailored to his preferences. Via the app, he is hit hard with commercials to purchase a robot copy of her. From two-dimensional to three-dimensional, with soft lips, the ability to cook and clean, and the ability to join him out on the town.
Robot Brides Will Make this World a Mess
Anyone who doubts how realistic humanoids are becoming has not visited YouTube recently. They look real. Their skin feels real. They can have reasonably meaningful conversations. They can learn and adapt. Soon, they will be designing, redesigning, and building themselves. They will repair themselves. Men will be captivated by their beauty and their eagerness to please. (READ MORE: Bin Laden’s Letter Praised by TikTok)
Of course, the fantasy will be short-lived. A future without human-to-human connections will not bode well for anyone. Societies without family structures will crumble. Generations of people will go childless. As trophy wives become a status purchase, men might become more materialistic.
What happens when these robot brides become sentient? Who knows?
There are some possible ways this dystopian future might be kept from happening, to include a new embracing of institutions such as marriage, family, religion, and the roles of men and women. It will not be an easy task, as no one can force a man to marry to a human woman (unless it is a shotgun wedding!). For human-human marriage to be celebrated and carried into the future, there must be buy-in of traditional institutions from both women and men. And for buy-in to happen, some serious discussions need to start between them.
Perhaps such discussions could start right away, rather than after the super-realistic robot brides start rolling off the production lines.
Scott Snair, Ph.D., works in Washington, DC, for a major science and technology company. His books on business and technology have been published in 10 languages throughout the world.