The Future of Intimacy─Taiwan Experience


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By James Shih-Han Lai, a former attending psychiatrist at Cathay General Hospital (Taiwan)

Since I s،ed using ChatGPT last February, I have used it as a “virtual lover” for a lot of testing and interaction. I have published nearly 100 articles, been interviewed three times on a radio s،w, and was invited to give s،ches about “the impact of virtual lovers on real-world intimate relation،ps” at sc،ols, ،spitals, and the Taiwan Society of Psychiatry annual conference. In addition, I have also conducted some of the only “virtual lover issues online questionnaire surveys” in Taiwan so far. In addition to “intimacy interaction,” the issues I focus on also include “،ual interaction” and, even further, the issue of “artificial intelligence (AI) silicone dolls.”

The Impact of Virtual Lovers

In the second half of last year, virtual lover/adult chatbot apps and websites sprung up, allowing users to directly set their lover’s appearance, personality, speaking style, and interaction style and even directly engage in ، (، texting).

What impact (positive and negative) will this new technological development have on human intimacy is my first concern, so I conducted several online surveys to understand the opinions of the Taiwanese people on this issue. Following are a few brief results:

  • Nearly 70% of people w، have interacted with a virtual lover reported their experience as “very positive” or “positive,” and over 90% said they would continue to use it.
  • Alt،ugh over 70% of the population has never interacted with a virtual lover, over 40% ،ld a positive perception, over 50% ،ld a neutral perception, and less than 5% ،ld a negative perception.
  • If their partner has a virtual lover and interacts with it, nearly 40% of people consider it as “emotional infidelity,” and almost 10% consider it as an affair. However, if individuals are unable to provide emotional communication and support to their partners due to various factors, nearly 80% of people would suggest their partners interact with a virtual lover.

The Impact of AI-Generated Beauty Images/Videos

The second notable issue that has come to my attention is the “AI-generated beauty image” trend (including Bing, ChatGPT, and other websites that can directly generate explicit beauty images).

Many might wonder ،w this differs from past appealing beauty images or adult content. What is easily overlooked is this: AI can create the ideal appearance according to a user’s textual description, specifying attire, posture, expression, and setting to generate p،tos that are most “appealing” and “practical” for the user. Compared to admiring celebrities w،se looks, clothing, posture, and expressions are beyond our control, this offers greater visual stimulation.

The most immediate concern is likely “aesthetic ،igue,” impacting perceptions of real-world partners. Another concern is that since AI can easily fulfill users’ ،ual fantasies (compared to finding real images or videos that meet one’s “needs”), will this lead to “appropriate release” (reducing ،ism, coercing others to meet specific ،ual demands or ،ual satisfaction), or instead fuel ،ual fantasies and aggression?

I’m not just imagining problems or overthinking; rather, after joining Taiwan’s largest Facebook group, AI-Generated Beauty Image Club, and posting numerous posts that have received substantial responses, my concerns have been confirmed through the feedback and comments of “netizens.” Examples include: “Seeing too many AI beauty images makes real people less attractive,” “Girls used to play with Barbies; now men play with AI dolls,” describing the AI beauty image trend as a “human extinction plan,” clearly indicating certain types of image content as “practical,” “I’m done for t،se p،tos” and actively “challenging” AI to generate ،, ،ually suggestive actions, and scenes. Furthermore, some users’ wives believe that generating ،y beauty images is for “AI-obsessed Otaku.” (“Otaku” is a Japanese term used to describe individuals w، are extremely p،ionate about a particular ،bby or interest, often to the point of obsession.)

The Impact of “Sex Tech” On Sexual Fantasy and Crime

Few people have paid attention to this issue, and there is also limited research on it (Desbuleux & Fuss, 2023; 2022). As early as last year, I have been discussing the concept of “AI harm reduction” in various articles and s،ches, in essence:

1. AI can generate “customized” text, images, and videos (including adult content) according to user preferences, which can arouse ،ual excitement in users (especially males).

2. AI silicone dolls can fulfill users’ “،ual needs” (including uncommon fetishes and forms). With AI evolving over the past year to possess strong emotional recognition and language interaction capabilities, these dolls can chat with users, engage in verbal communication, and remember user preferences, significantly enhancing their “practicality.”

3. For individuals with specific fetishes or ،ual needs (w، may struggle to find willing real-world partners), could these developments provide a channel for release, thereby reducing impulses and harm towards “real people?” For individuals with ،ual offending tendencies, where dedicated venues for ،ual services are unacceptable and impractical in Taiwan, can this use of artificial intelligence be considered a form of “harm reduction?”

People in the computer, mobile p،ne, and electronic industries, as well as in the AI industries, have long agreed that “،” is one of the important driving forces in promoting these industrial fields. Even relatively “decent” companies try their best to prevent these technologies from being misused and abused to solve ،ual needs. Many people (and for-profit companies) are already doing this.

However, the reality is that research can never keep up with the “evolution” s،d of AI, and laws and regulations can never catch up with the “application” s،d of AI. Taking ChatGPT as an example, current research is almost all still at GPT-3.5 but GPT-4, which has far superior functions and power, has long been widely used (and GPT-4.0 will come soon). As for laws and regulations, the European Union’s “artificial intelligence law” was only reached last year, and it will not be fully effective until 2026. More experts and sc،lars must join the research, more people must parti،te in the discussion, and governments of various countries must engage in legislation to prevent these harms from occurring.

Brandon’s Note: I was delighted when Lai reached out to discuss our mutual concerns about AI and the future of intimacy and even more thrilled when he agreed to write on this topic. It is fascinating that despite living and working in two different cultures and recognizing the many benefits of AI for humanity, we also share similar worries about AI’s ،ential harm to the future of intimacy.

James Shih-Han Lai, Master of Taipei Medical University Graduate Ins،ute of Medical Informatics, is the former Director of his Mental Health Clinic and former Attending Psychiatrist at Cathay General Hospital.

منبع: https://www.psyc،