Despite our conventional view of love as an omnipotent force able to right all wrongs and transcend time, modern neuroscience has found nothing more but a series of chemical reactions interpreted by our neutrons as those feelings we cherish. Further research shows that romantic commitment to a partner can be deliberately engineered through hormone injections. Perhaps this solution makes love too inauthentic and should not be used, but a more disturbing question arises: are our feelings of attachment truly that cheap? Will technology render meaningless the effort we put into our relationships? The future of love seems dangerously artificial.
In the modern western world, half of all marriages end in divorce. As we get increasingly desperate to find "the one", we look fondly upon ye good old days where couples stayed in lifelong loving marriages. Except, they did not: the mainstream media made that up. In her article "The Future of Love'', Barbara Graham states that historically, marriages were arranged transactions “and had little or nothing to do with love” (9). Graham cites the eminent Helen Fisher to highlight how culture presents lust and infatuation as the only stages of love thus trapping us in a never-ending cycle of "[jumping from partner to partner] in order to maintain a buzz" (Graham 10). What people have the most difficulty with is the third stage of love, attachment. The hormones related to that stage only kick in after one or two years therefore it requires commitment, which we all dread. Also, behaviors of intimacy are simply not glamorous enough to be shown on the big screen, exemplified in Romeo and Juliet where the couple off themselves "while the heat is still (…) up" (Graham 9). we simply have no role models. Another biological factor that Graham does not cover impedes on our quest of textbook marriage. In order to increase our chances of survival, human females are programmed to seek out the highest value male to mate with. To match women's hypergamous tendencies, men developed polygamous behaviors and powerful men throughout history often had multiple wives. Graham concludes by stating our need for a "radically different" paradigm on love.
To Julian Savulescu and Anders Sandberg, authors of "Engineering Love" our feelings of attachment, the basis of healthy long-term relationships, can easily be created or destroyed by a simple pill. In the article, they describe an experiment where scientists had genetically modified polygamous montane voles into having more vasopressin receptors. They started behaving monogamously like their prairie cousins. With a simple tweak, the uncommitted rodents suddenly felt attachment. These findings suggest that changing an individual who does not exhibit a certain behavior hormonal balance to the levels measured during that specific behavior will also cause the behavior to appear. Because the human brain runs on the same neuroreceptors as mostly anything in the animal kingdom, Sandberg and Savulescu propose hormones in directions to be included as part of couples therapy. Considering the popularity of contraceptive pills, essentially solid estrogen, it is reasonable to assume that for example, oxytocin (another attachment hormone) nasal sprays could become mainstream. The vole study continues, as reported by Helen Thompson in her article " How to fix a broken heart": the researchers then inhibited oxytocin receptors in the monogamous prairie voles, which instantly became polygamists. Instead of agonizing over heartbreak, we could pop a pill and get back into it. Perhaps men should not have that much power over love, Samberg and Savulescu recognize that the noble nature we assign love might be corrupted by such hormonal manipulations. To address that, we need to know: what is love?
In 2009, a Japanese man under the user name Sal 9000 married Nene Anegasaki, a character in his favorite video game. As weird as it may seem, Catherine de Lange suggests in her article "AI Attraction" that we can easily develop "human" relationships with inhuman things. She cites Julie Carpenter’s Study done on bomb disposal robot operators in the US Army. Carpenter found that operatives went through an iteration of the five stages of grief when their device was disabled by an eventual explosion. Like children who talk with their teddies, grown adults have been shown to assign personalities onto inanimate objects perhaps due to the never-ending loneliness they feel. This forces us to re-examine the nature of romantic attachment. When David Levy was asked if humans could fall in love with robots he answered that we could fall in love with anything that could give us a conversation. After all, the Internet allows human couples to maintain long-distance relationships over extended periods of time and certain relationships can last for years without any physical contact from the lovers. It is therefore not far-fetched for someone to fall in love with an advanced texting bot. Furthermore, advances in commercial sex dolls have made them more and more realistic to the point where they could be indistinguishable even in person. Perhaps this will be a wholesome way to open up our definitions of a relationship. For Levy, this change will make people happy, but at what cost? The two previous articles have discussed how romance amounts to a mere cocktail of brain hormones, now we even discover that humans need not apply.
The future derived by our three simple articles: "The Future of Love" by Barbara Graham, "Engineering Love" by Julian Savulescu and Anders Sandberg, and "AI Attraction" by Catherine de Lange seems pretty grim. A dystopic and disingenuous landscape where couples inject themselves with increasing doses of oxytocin just to stand each other is the likely possibility. Perhaps it will get to the point where humans are trapped in a literal simulation, desperately clawing for any miserable trace of the connection while machines use us as batteries. But also perhaps there is hope for all of us, maybe love is indeed godly energy that changes lives. Let us hope for once that science is wrong.
Rishabh Goswami is an undergraduate computer science student at Ashoka University. Rishabh previously worked with Mahmudabad Estate and currently working as a data analyst intern at Adobe Inc.