Love is everywhere in this year’s digital Christmas issue

We like to think that at this time of year love, actually, is all around. That’s why this digital-only Christmas special issue makes love its theme.

‘The love theme’ sounds like an instrumental song from the late, great Barry White. But we’re thinking broader than romantic, sexy lurve. There’s motherly love and brotherly love; love for our friends, fellow human beings and family pets. We examine how technology can help make and maintain those relationships, especially in the time of a pandemic that otherwise isolated so many people in the world from real human contact with those they loved.

Technology has already helped so many keep in touch with their loved ones through video links, social media and more. That’s nothing new – communications technology has always had a strong social role from the humble telephone onwards. How will it take that role further in the future?

I was lucky to have my own family to stay home with, but I found the first hug with my parents after not seeing them for so long highly emotional. It must be so much more acute for those who live alone. Caroline Hayes looks at the future of long-distance relationships, from the virtual hug to the remote kiss.

The idea that machines could take over all the work of pregnancy has been the stuff of science fiction – more often a nightmare than a dream – since ‘Brave New World’, the 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley. But should we be more accepting? Hilary Clarke looks at the state of the technology to grow babies not in the womb but in the living room.

How can tech help us to form relationships in the first place? We look at the development of artificial intelligence in dating apps. Would you trust affairs of the heart to algorithms? Heidi Vella discovers that many people do prefer calculated matches to pure serendipity and reveals big tech’s ambitions for matchmaking in the metaverse.

These are all about technology with real live people at the other end. But what about machines taking on full relationships? That too has been the stuff of science fiction, from Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ to ‘Bladerunner’ or ‘Humans’. Siobhan Doyle compares the capacity of our top ten favourite fictional robots to love.

In this issue, we dared to delve into the murky world of adult entertainment robots. And then kind of wished we hadn’t. Lust helped to drive many other technical novelties from photography and moving pictures to videos and virtual reality. Will robotics get a sex drive? Louise Murray checks out what is being manufactured where and finds proof that personality is more important than looks in machines as well as people.

Japanese designers make a lot of cute robot pets with large eyes and an all-round, loveable, friendly face and sweet expressions. The logic is that’s what humans respond to, but is it really that simple? Those cues are certainly real but isn’t affection, let alone love, more than a subconscious, involuntary response to a set of stimuli? Could you fall in love with a robot animal or robot person, even one that was indistinguishable from real flesh and blood? Or does the discovery that it’s just programmed circuits bring love down? We get the answers from some experts on robotics – and experts on love. 

There’s much more in our latest issue – the last of 2021. 

Graphic showing most popular toys this Christmas

Image credit: Graphic News

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