Digital Girlfriends and Bio-Hacking: When Has Technology Gone Too Far?

As science pushes the boundaries of what is possible, it also pushes the needle on our collective moral compass.

There are many ways in which technology has dissolved seemingly insurmountable boundaries, ways in which it has conquered disease and connected the globe. However, none of us are blind to the ways that technology has changed our behaviors and reshaped our worldview – and not always for the better.

Parents observing the “digital native” generation are often mystified by these new changes, even when we are participating ourselves. Many of us are not comforted by the increased level of surveillance, the “smart” everything, the incessant device use, and the absence of activities that were part and parcel of childhood for us.

In its extreme form, technology is invasive, enabling some of the worst and weirdest human qualities to gain a foothold. Why should we examine these instances? Because it forces us to ask the fundamental questions about what technology should do for us, and where we should draw the line.

Online shopping serves as a great example. When retail met the web, everyone was convinced that the days of driving to a store were over, so convinced that the dotcom bubble burst and many companies went bust without making a dime. We all love the convenience of shopping from our computers: we can do it at home, see a really broad range of products and reviews, find the best price, and keep our purchases private. However, consumer fraud from retail transactions amounts to about $32 billion, according to 2014 statistics2. Similarly, ransomware costs consumers and businesses approximately $1 billion per year, and recovery of ransomed data is estimated around 80% (20% of companies won’t get their data back even if they pay)1.

At what point are we trading the immediacy and convenience of these capabilities for safety and social contract? Have we already made that deal?

Simulation is a recent advance that allows people to adapt new skills, like driving a helicopter, or predicting cerebral aneurysms. Low stakes learning enables us to reduce danger and reimagine lost worlds. However, some simulations have raised controversy, such as “Sweetie” the digital bait developed to catch online pedophiles on the dark web. “Sweetie” was such a convincing replica that she fooled approximately one thousand suspects, however, the sting operation was a bust since the law saw the practice of bating predators as entrapment2.

There is also the disturbing social trend in Japan dubbed the Herbivore, men who have lost all interest in relationships. There are several cultural factors at play here, but one of them appears to be use of a Nintendo game called Love Plus, where users have simulated girlfriends. Japan’s death rate exceeded its birthrate last year, and one survey indicated that 17.9% of Japanese men have completely lost interest in marriage and having children. About 600,000 copies of the game have sold in Japan since it hit the market in 2009, allowing users to carry on relationships with an interactive girlfriend named Rinko or Nene. One user even went so far as to marry his digital girlfriend3.

3D printing is nothing short of miraculous, allowing DIY manufacturing of solid objects using “slicing” technology that allows materials like plastic, polymers, and even metal to construct in layers.

Taking this tech to the extreme, however are people like Cody Wilson, anarchist and founder of a group called Defense Distributed. Wilson and his anti-government organization are propagating weapons via the Internet. The group’s design, called the Ghost Gunner, allows anyone to download blueprints, assemble the printer and manufacture their own AR-15 assault rifle. Hundreds of these Ghost Gunner printers have been sold and require no gun license from the buyer.

Tracking devices allow us to find our pets, trace our lost phones, and of course, get mapping information. Products like the Fitbit and health apps like Lifesum are getting gobbled up by millennials. One company moved on to another level of human-machine interaction by encouraging employees to hold their data even closer: inside their bodies.

Epicenter in Stockholm Sweden implanted their employees with chips so that they could do daily things like pay for lunch, access secured rooms, and check in at the gym by waving their hands over a sensor5. Apparently the embedded chip is harmless, but the design is so new that long-term study is not yet an option. Other areas of research have actually gotten to the point where device-nervous system communication is possible, which is life-changing for amputees, but the idea of planting your personal data in your body is still unsettling for many people.

If these ideas seem totally outrageous and reprehensible to you, think back to a couple short years ago when smartphones first came out. It was laughable that we would all give up maps, or have a phone conversation in a restaurant. Well, this just illustrates how easily public opinion shifts. It’s pretty critical that as the wheels of innovation continue to churn out smaller, cheaper, faster products that we reflect on the implications for our families. Some of the things we do require the friction of effort, and without it, the end results become less unique, less progress-oriented and less satisfying.

And when it comes to our most valuable assets, our loved ones, there should be no substitute for a real hug, a real commitment, and real-life obstacles that help us grow. That is why as parents we always need to maintain a discussion with our children about the ways that technology helps or hinders.





About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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