Valentine’s Day: a celebration of cherubs, chocolates and human contact. Until COVID-19 hit. As the global pandemic continues to rip up the dating rulebook, and with loneliness at an all-time high, is now the right time to consider if we can start to love machines?

Robot relationships become a real possibility this Valentine’s

Tinder. Bumble. Grindr. The notion of digitized matchmaking is nothing new, but normally a love match is followed by dating in real life. However, with COVID-19 bringing feelings of isolation, detachment and loneliness, even digital dates don’t satisfy our need for human interaction. The answer? AI-powered sex companions and robot relationships.

Back in 2018, Forbes described sex robots as “the most disruptive technology we didn’t see coming,” predicting robots will become familiar companions in the future. As people attempt to replace Netflix with new interactions, we may be on the cusp of a surge in AI, robot and virtual relationships.

The year of love and loneliness

Found in Kaspersky’s Love and Loneliness campaign, 84 percent of people across Europe admitted they are lonelier during the pandemic than before. This detachment from human contact meant that nearly two in three 18 to 34-year-olds used technologies like video-calling, online dating and chatbots to fight feelings of loneliness. A clear sign that we’re now more likely to seek companionship using tech in times of need.

Be still, my mechanical heart

A year has passed since COVID-19 entered most of our lives. During this time, we;ve become more confident and creative with the tech we use. And as feelings of loneliness intensify, it’s fair to say that the idea of artificial comfort, company or closeness is no longer as bizarre as it may have seemed before the pandemic.

We’re heading towards another Valentine’s Day, and for those already feeling detached, technology could provide a (literal) release. Using AI and robots to enhance sex and relationships won’t be for everyone, but for those who do explore this novel territory, it’s a meaningful option. Just as using dating apps or going on a Zoom date was considered bizarre just a few years ago, this tech could be the future of love.

We need to keep this new tech secure. The past year has called for heightened education around email scams and other escalating cybercrime threats. It’s knowledge that keeps people safe. And knowledge can only be shared if we’re open to discussing these new technologies without stigma.

Can we learn to love robots? Watch more stories about AI, robots and love in the Imagine Beyond episode: Build Me Somebody To Love.