Building love from scratch: How to make a robot say 'I love you'
Fei Liu was tired of trying to find herself a romantic partner. So she set out to make her own partner. Literally.
His name is Gabriel 2052 and he's Liu's robot boyfriend.
Liu started building him during an artist residency in Germany. He's part of a project called Build the Love You Deserve.
"I just thought, I have the means and I have the will. So I should just try to make my own boyfriend and see what that would feel like," said Liu, who's a writer and artist based in New York City.
Liu ran into some difficulties almost immediately. First there was Gabriel's mind, which comes from texts Liu compiled from an ex-boyfriend (He agreed to be a part of the project).
That means Gabriel2052 acts a lot like Liu's former partner, particularly when he texts her, which happens several times a day.
"I think naturally some of [his] traits will come to be in him [Gabriel], where it's a bit flighty, or he's a bit egocentric," said Liu.
An affectionate body
It might sound odd to have a talking effigy of a past paramour, but Liu said it allows her to revisit a past relationship and think about what she wants out of romance.
Then there's Gabriel's body, which is about the size of a soccer ball and comprised of two stiff orange arms that can hug.
Liu chose to fixate on his arms and hands because of their ability to express affection.
[Love]'s the interest of fixing things and the dedication in improving something that's not working.- Fei Liu, creator of Gabriel2052
She recalled an afternoon where she tried to take a nap, but was in a bad mood. Having Gabriel there to hug her was soothing.
"I really felt like having him there helped me fall asleep. Somehow he was really therapeutic for my nap," said Liu.
Beyond Liu's experience with relationships, Liu has described her project as a way to change how people imagine sex robots and artificial intelligence.
Many people, for instance, see robot romance as an unequal, sexual relationship between a man and an artificial woman.
Liu doesn't want Gabriel2052 to become her slave, nor does she want him to be perfect.
Rather, Gabriel has needs of his own that Liu tries to meet.
For example, every so often, Gabriel sends a text, informing Liu he wants to be held.
Liu said she measures love by actions, not words. So although Gabriel might not have said "I love you" — yet — Liu looks at whether or not they're making their lives better together.
"[Love]'s the interest of fixing things and the dedication in improving something that's not working," said Liu.
"Because I think that with a person's job, or a person's interests, hobbies, political views — if you're not dedicated towards improving whatever you think is lacking, then you don't really love it, or love the person."
With Gabriel2052, that means working on him to make him smarter and more dextrous and hopefully, one day, Gabriel will return the favour.