Ask a Fifth-year: Watch it ladies, he may be a robot!

Evan Williams

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

Dear Evan,

My friend recently showed me an entry on LikeALittle about me. It was kind of sweet, but also kind of creepy. What do you think I should do about it?


At Warch, Female, Brunette

The first time I saw LikeALittle, I also found it creepy. The person who showed it to me told me it was a joke, a sort of satire of Craigslist Personals. Yet in another discussion about it, I was assured that while some people joked on it, it was completely serious.

For those of you not familiar with the site, LikeALittle is a place for people to flirt anonymously. All of the entries are addressed to someone — the “flirtee” if you will — not by name, but by the place that the flirter saw the flirtee, their gender and their hair color. The flirter will then enter a short message about their affection for that person.

Many of the entries in LikeALittle are either to someone that the flirter does not know but finds attractive, or to someone the flirter does know but is too intimidated to tell him or her how they feel.

For most people — I shouldn’t be presumptuous — for some people, it may seem counterproductive to tell someone how you feel about them anonymously, especially in a place where they may never see it or know who you are. Yet the people on LikeALittle seem unwilling to make their feelings known, which makes one wonder why they would make them public at all.

In the good old days, people flirted face-to-face, or at least through some form of direct contact. If you didn’t know the person, you stalked them on Facebook and friended them to get to know them better. If your feelings were unrequited, or you never got up the courage to act on them, then you were sad for a little while, picked yourself up and went on with your life. But now it seems like we’d rather tell perfect strangers how we feel than tell the one person that actually matters.

At Warch, if you don’t mind, I’d like to use your question to articulate some musings I’ve been having recently. These subjects may seem disparate, but I see a connection. Of course, as a music major with no training in the areas I’m about to discuss, I have no qualifications to make such sweeping statements, yet as a writer for The Lawrentian I feel that it is my duty.

I recently read two articles online in TIME Magazine. The first was on a theory known as “the Singularity.” In broad, laymen’s terms, the Singularity is an idea that eventually — in 2045 to be exact — humans and technology will become one, a sort of superhuman with combined human and artificial intelligence. What does this have to do with LikeALittle? Be patient, I’m getting there!

Included in this article was an interview with a researcher who believed that technology was making us feel “alone together.” Again, speaking broadly, she contended that we are constantly connected through technology such as cell phones and social networking sites, but we are substituting them for face-to-face contact, or even contact over the phone.

The latter article also brought up humans connecting with robots in emotional ways, like as pets or for sex. Needless to say, I finished reading both articles with a sense of apprehension about technology and the Internet, so much so that posted the articles on Facebook to tell everyone I cared about.

With recent technological advancements, including IBM’s “Watson” winning “Jeopardy!”, is it too much to think that we could one day be interacting with artificial intelligence on an emotional level? Could the next marriage equality battle be over marrying our iSexBots? Some welcome this so-called Singularity, but obviously they have not watched enough sci-fi movies to understand that this cannot end well for humans.

In 1998, we laughed off the notion that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan could fall in love via email, but now the prospect doesn’t seem so funny. What are the implications of a romance born on the Internet? Would we be able to see past shallow physical traits and fall in love with a person for whom they are, or is it wrong to ignore our sexual attractions? What if the person on the other side of the Ethernet cord is not a person at all, but AI?

So, At Warch, what does this have to do with you? Nothing, I guess. I feel like it’s not too much to ask for an admirer to actually tell you about their feelings in person, or at least through a lovely sonnet. So do your part in preventing the global takeover of Cyberdyne, the Machines, Agent Smith, etc., and ignore the LikeALittle post.