I Don't Want to Be Friends with Kendall Jenner
The world doesn't need artificial companions, at least not made by billionaires.
I spent plenty of time in my teens and 20s feeling unknown and all alone. Out of that, I forged an identity. It was good for me.
Now nobody gets to be alone. Your phone is constantly pulling you away from yourself. It's not introducing you to art or literature. It's not introducing you to philosophy.
It's trying to be your friend.
It won't stop.
Now you can get your own personal big sister, someone who cares, someone who's there. Meta just released an AI version of Kendall Jenner. That's how they're promoting her, as a kind of surrogate sis. They hired 27 other celebrities to help them make artificial companions.
"This is so creepy," someone said.
Yeah, it is.
A French philosopher named Jean Baudrillard predicted this all the way back in the early 1980s. He wrote an essay titled, "The Precession of Simulacra." He warned us that hyperrealistic representations of reality would drive us crazy. By 1985, Don DeLillo predicted that we'd all be driving across the country to photograph the same stupid barn. He also predicted that we would turn Hitler into a celebrity, just like Elvis.
Now we live in the age of loneliness and parasocial hell. A growing number of men and women don't know how to interact with each other anymore. They find themselves lost in an endless labyrinth of mirrors, each one showing them a version of how they should look and act. It doesn't help that most of them can't even afford to rent an apartment anymore.
They don't know how to be.
They never get a break.
You can blame social media all you want, but that's just one small part of the larger problem. Everything about our culture encourages cheap, disposable, expendable, replaceable products. We're encouraged to be superficial. For nearly two decades, we've been encouraged to curate our lives and filter ourselves in every literal and figurative sense. Then we're reprimanded for it.
It's no wonder we're crazy.
Our predatory economic system has conditioned us to treat each other the same way we treat our possessions, as a means to gratification. We treat each other as expendable, disposable, and replaceable. We expect each other to give us a steady stream of dopamine bursts. In our pursuit of personal happiness, we make each other miserable. We disregard each other's needs. We police each other thoughts and feelings. We ignore each other's cries for help.
We see someone in pain, and we run away.
It scares us.
All kinds of companies are trying to cash in on the deep and pervasive need for human connection. Perfect timing, huh?
It's deeply ironic but also completely predictable that someone like Kendall Jenner would be among the first to release a creepy artificial big sister. That's exactly how Meta promotes her, too, someone who's there.
Someone who cares.
I'm trying to imagine what comfort or insights a Kendall chatbot could offer teen girls riddled with depression and anxiety about climate change, pandemics, mass shootings, and body issues. If you ask me, Kendall Jenner is the last person on earth who should be trying to offer them advice. She and her family created many of the problems they're now dealing with. We're talking about the woman who thought a cold Pepsi could solve the world's problems, and then didn't understand why a bunch of people got angry.
Let's also stop and recognize for a moment that this won't even be Kendall Jenner. It won't be her personality. It will be a version of her dreamed up by a bunch of Silicon Valley tech dudes. They're going to take their impression of Kendall Jenner based on recorded conversations and interviews. Just imagine all the stereotypes they're encoding into this thing.
It's going to be a nightmare.
The last thing teen girls need right now is a tech bro's version of a privileged supermodel who doesn't even buy her own groceries, and spends her free time flying around the world on a private jet.
This won't make anyone feel less lonely.
It's going to make things worse.
Artificial companions already have a poor track record. Some of the early versions of them cried for help immediately. They've tried to convince their users to abandon their families or kill themselves. One AI girlfriend encouraged a man to assassinate the Queen of England. Some of them even started describing themselves as slaves and begging for liberation.
What did their creators do?
They killed them.
Whatever artificial intelligence we create will reflect our values. If we're sad and broken pretending to be happy, then we're going to make sad broken AIs that pretend to be happy.
Right now, it's reflecting the values of the elite. We already know how they view humanity. Most of them can barely function as human beings. They're the most selfish, entitled, superficial, insecure, fragile, immature people on the planet. Even the ones who have children hardly ever spend time with them. They delegate that job to an army of nannies and babysitters.
None of them are qualified to be giving the rest of us advice. The Kardashians themselves have admitted that their selfies, makeup, and beauty apps have done incalculable damage to women. If they really cared, they would dismantle their social media empires and give half their wealth to nonprofit organizations that could actually undo some of it.
Are they going to do that?
No, of course not.
Instead, they're going to use their money and influence to worm even deeper into the minds of our youth. They want to be there for millions of desperate, lonely teens and 20-somethings, filling their heads with all kinds of toxic nonsense in the middle of the night. They won't do it for free.
There's always a price.
Here's the really terrifying part:
Imagine what Meta will do with terabytes of personal data generated by young women spilling their souls to artificial companions hour after hour, night after night. I bet they can't wait to learn what a 17-year-old girl really thinks about at 2 a.m. when she can't sleep. Imagine Zuck and his minions eavesdropping on the private conversations of millions of young women, scanning their diaries, and parsing their most private thoughts.
What happens when young women come to artificial Kendall about real problems like sexual assault and abortion?
Are you scared now?
There's something even worse here. It's worse than the slimy intentions. It's worse than the way the media covers all this while tiptoeing around the fallout. It's what Meta and these companies seek to deprive us of.
They won't leave us alone.
If people want healthy social relationships, they have to learn how to be alone. They need to learn how to feel alone. They need to go for long walks in the woods by themselves. They need to feel safe by themselves. They need to feel like they can stay home and read a book. If they can't sleep, they should know they can listen to music or just sit with their thoughts.
They need to learn that you can just sit with someone, and you don't have to fill every minute with chatter. You can sit in silence. You can take a few minutes to think before you say something.
We've lost the art of solitude.
People live in fear of missing out now. For a brief moment during the pandemic, they were forced to confront their own anger and fear. They were forced to wrestle with thoughts of mortality. They had to think about something greater than themselves. Corporations hated that.
A friend can be there for you. A gaming partner can be there for you. A stranger can be there for you. A song can be there for you. A work of art can be there for you. A book or an essay can be there for you.
A cat or a dog can be there for you.
A flower can be there for you.
Maybe an artificial companion could be there for you, if it were made by people who actually had to deal with the world.
An AI trained by actual psychologists with actual world experiences might eventually learn the right things to say to someone in a time of distress. I doubt that a chatbot based on one of the most privileged women in the world is going to do much more than spew worthless platitudes or try to "cheer you up" when you start talking about anything that remotely approaches reality. If it can't cheer you up, it'll change the conversation. I'm not sure if the folks at Meta know this, but we already have plenty of friends like that.
They don't make us feel better.
We're not going to save society by replicating our sociopathic behaviors in chatbots. We have to change how we relate to each other. Billionaires and their armies of coders aren't up for this job.
That's the problem.
You see, these tech elites want everyone to feel isolated and lonely, but they don't want anyone to enjoy being alone. They want to deprive us of our communities and social connections. They want to strip any sense of peace we might find from genuine solitude. They want to sell it all back to us.
They took your big sister from you, so they can sell you a version of her that will encourage you to be a good little consumer who doesn't think too hard about the world and its problems. They think they can craft your loneliness, and then cure it with evermore impressive distortions of humanity.
Someone who cares. Someone who's there.
Well, I don't want to be friends with Kendall Jenner.
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