Will AI Make You an Addict?

The novel I’m writing is set in the future, tentatively in the year 2047, so it’s roughly one human generation ahead of us. For technology, however, that’s many generations ahead.

Consider that the first iPhone shipped in 2007 (13 years ago). If you got an iPhone 4S when it first came out, that was 9 years ago, and the 5S was 7 years ago.

The iPad is 10.5 years old. The Apple Watch is 5.5 years old.

Look back 27 years to 1993. Back then I was using a 486DX 50mhz computer with a 250MB hard drive. I think it was about $2500 when I bought it. I did some contract programming for a local game developer that year, and I remember using a 486DX 33mhz machine at their office each day. I wrote games for Windows 3.1, and I also heavily used DOS apps (with MS-DOS 6.0), mainly because Windows apps were still pretty slow.

Technically there was an Internet. I think we were using 14.4k modems back then since 28.8K ones didn’t come out till the following year… and 56K a couple years after that.

Web browsing, like with Netscape Navigator, didn’t really start becoming a thing till 1994-95. I build my first website in 1995 for my computer game business. Before the Web started taking off, people often thought of the Internet as geeky college stuff, or it was some kind of paid service like AOL, CompuServe, or Prodigy.

So that was 27 years ago, which seems like ages ago. Now I’m trying to write a novel projected 27 years into the future. That’s difficult, and I’ll surely guess wrong about a lot of things. But it’s a fun thought experiment nonetheless, especially if you love tech as I do.

My current approach is to just journal about the world and let my brain start making connections. As I see some ideas flowing onto the screen, I begin thinking about how they’ll combine. I think about the benefits and drawbacks of these combos. This helps me assemble the world in which my story can take place.

I also have to consider that the pace of change in the next 27 years will be way faster than what happened over the last 27 years. So it might be more like comparing today with 1950s tech.

One trend in particular that seems interesting to explore is AI and personalization.

For instance, I imagine that sometime within the next 27 years, you’ll be able to say most or all of these things to one of your devices, and you’ll be able to expect a good result:

  • Create and play an original episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the original cast, just for me. Cast my wife as a guest character.
  • Generate a new sci-fi series that you think I’ll like. Give it 5 seasons, 10-12 episodes per season, and 40-45 minutes per episode. Have it star Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and Tom Hanks at their ages from the year 2000. And include a robot character with Jim Carrey’s voice.
  • Generate and add 10 attractive photos of me to that new dating app I installed.
  • Generate a new open-world fantasy video game similar to Zelda: Breath of the Wild 5. Name the lead character Schmoopie. Include the Three Stooges as quest companions that I meet as I play. Make it take about 200 hours to finish if I do all of the side quests. Make all the food and characters in the game world vegan. Save it to be played on my XBox One XS version X One. Monitor my responses as I play to make sure I’m having fun.
  • Plan a vacation trip for my wife and me to Italy in the spring. Include Rome and Venice. Make it two weeks in duration. Include the major stops you think we’d appreciate, but also give us plenty of time to wander and explore. Keep it under $7K total cost for the trip, but not too much under. Book it and add it to my calendar. Book-end the trip with a self-driving car pickup and drop off at my house. Create a 5-minute preview video of us enjoying the trip, and send it to my wife and me. After the trip, generate a 30-minute highlight video of us on the trip, and add it to our family camera roll.
  • Generate a new 12-song Depeche Mode album in the style of Violator but with shades of Songs of Faith and Devotion – with Alan Wilder as a band member please. Play it during my run tomorrow.

I think we’ll see a big explosion of AI and personalization, especially when it comes to media. I think it’s just a matter of time before AI is smart enough to generate custom experiences. AI can already generate original photos, artwork, and music now. And it can generate movies too with some major limitations. It’s also being used to upscale older videos to 4K resolution or better. It will take time, but I think that AI-generated content will eventually become the primary source of entertainment for most people. I think human-created content will still be around, but AI will improve more rapidly in this area, and the costs are much, much lower. It’s probably just a matter of time before AI surpasses humans at creating TV shows, movies, video games, VR worlds, and more.

I think we’ll see some intermediate steps between now and then, like TV shows or movies where you can change the actors. There may be legal hurdles to that though.

Fortunately the goal of creating a story world isn’t accuracy. I think the goal is to identify interesting sources of conflict. How will the world of the future challenge people?

One big issue I see is the rise of addiction. We’re already seeing AI being used in this way by Facebook. Now imagine if you were able to use AI for your own pleasure, and you give it access to data that it can use for that purpose. Suppose that while you’re watching a movie or playing a game, the AI can monitor your pulse, analyze your face in real-time, and use that data to sense how your biology is responding in each moment. Then it can generate more personalized content for you. It’s an echo chamber for one.

This creates interesting opportunities to though, especially in a capitalist society. We’re also likely to see more AI thrown at the problem of fighting addiction.

I appreciate fictional stories that highlight future problems. They help us map out the possibility space, including dangers to be avoided. A few good examples are 1984, The Terminator, and Gattaca. While fictional and exaggerated, they also point to genuine risks.

Writing a novel that helps to serve as a potential warning appeals to me. The story I’m writing (now past 17K words) is actually pretty dark. Here are some questions I’m currently exploring through the story arc:

  • How might the relationship between AI and addiction unfold?
  • What if people are empowered to use AI in ways that could lead to addictive behaviors?
  • How far will corporations go in using AI to addict their customers to their products and services?
  • Which commands that people might give AI are likely to lead to addictions?
  • What can humans do about AIs that are actively trying to condition addictive patterns?
  • How might AI be used to fight or prevent addictions?
  • Could humanity actually trap itself in an inescapable cage of AI-fueled addiction? If so, what would that cage look like?

While we could get lost in projecting many different technologies forward, for this purpose I favor keeping the world relatively simple and easy to grasp, so readers can be more immersed in the characters, the plot, and the themes rather than having to read endless description about the world.

As I work on this project, I note that the risks I’m identifying are also real. I think people will become increasingly vulnerable to tech-related addictions in the years ahead. Writing this book helps me think about how that may play out and what the potential solutions might be. So there’s an interesting relationship between exploring ahead with a fiction project and helping people prepare for upcoming personal challenges.