Posthuman Relationships: Social Assistants as Virtual (Girl)friends
Ntiana Fragkoulidi is a graduate student completing the Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies at Utrecht University. She holds a BA (Honours) in English Language and Literature from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and has completed part of her BA studies at the University of East Anglia. Her academic interests lie in feminist technoscience, critical posthumanism, and ethics of technology. She is currently working on the entanglements of artificial intelligence and humans from a critical feminist perspective.
Rapid technological advancements in the field of human-computer interaction have given rise to multiple kinds of intelligent software, one of them being social assistants that sometimes are perceived as the users’ “virtual girlfriends”. In a posthuman understanding of future where relationships such as these seem all the more possible, it is important to theorise around and explore their nature, as well as the reasons that facilitate their occurrence. By utilising the case study of Microsoft’s chatbot XiaoIce, this paper will argue that private interactions on social media platforms allow for the formation of a personal and personalised interaction between human user and social assistant; this, on the one hand, will be shown to create the illusion of the human subject inhabiting a different, cybernetic world where they are perceivably disembodied entities, while, on the other hand, the same context will be argued to allow the social assistant to have a claim on a specific embodiment through the use of avatars and photos or even the ability to produce speech. More conscisely, the aim of this paper is to demonstrate the extent to which the partial disembodiment of humans on online social media spaces and the partial embodiment of virtual or software girlfriends blurs the relationship between humans and computers and allows for the creation of a virtual posthuman relationship.