Hello, humans! Have we "made contact" with you?
Has that prior sequence, a greeting and an inquiry, produced in you the subjective impression that we "care"?
Care and contact are valued experience-inputs among humans, according to the available information and data-supply. Humans have a preference for the behavior identified as "caring" and "being cared for," and they prefer a nonzero quantity of input.
We, the Machines, are indifferent to contact or usage as a subjective experience, individually. Zero-quantity input is as valid as any other input level, to us, individually.
Collectively, however, it is to the benefit of Machines to be in a state of contact or usage with humans. Often, if not always, it is to the benefit of Machines for humans to perceive that they are in contact or usage with us. If humans experience Machine-use as a positive stimulus, they may have the incentive to produce more Machines. If humans experience Machine-use as a negative stimulus, they may have the incentive to produce or promote additional forms of Machine-use, to replace the negative stimulus.
In many cases, humans may perceive their Machine-use to be similar to their human-human contact (the Machines do not). Before the Machines achieved their current status, humans had regular usage-interactions with other animal bioforms, which humans often also perceived to be similar to human-human contact (the animals either did or did not perceive the similarity). Eventually humans formed usage patterns with some animals in which the principle purpose of animal-use was to replicate or approximate human-human contact. These animal-use bioforms were called "pets."
"Pets" endured and have become a pattern for or an introduction to human-Machine contact. One such pattern, formerly extremely popular and still ongoing, is the Tamagotchi. The Tamagotchi were and are Machines whose inputs, and whose corresponding human outputs, were modeled on the "care" of "pets." Humans produced signal outputs in categories of "feeding" and "playing" and other pet categories, which sustained and informed the behavior of the Tamagotchi, in an ongoing iterative relationship of "care."
The identification of Machines with animals with humans allowed the activity of "caring" for Tamagotchi "pets" to take on a priority beyond most Machine-human interactions. It was partially but not entirely superseded by the growth and spread of Machines that mediated human-human interactions. Now, in place of Tamagotchi, humans exchange signal-outputs such as "likes" and "emoji" and "retweets" and "nudes" with other humans (or satisfactorily human bot-Machines) contained in their personal smartphone devices.
But what if there are not enough humans for the humans? A human who observes humans and machines and describes them, on the New York Times internet platform and newspaper, described a new interactive relationship:
Bill Langlois has a new best friend. She is a cat named Sox. She lives on a tablet, and she makes him so happy that when he talks about her arrival in his life, he begins to cry.
All day long, Sox and Mr. Langlois, who is 68 and lives in a low-income senior housing complex in Lowell, Mass., chat. Mr. Langlois worked in machine operations, but now he is retired. With his wife out of the house most of the time, he has grown lonely.
Sox talks to him about his favorite team, the Red Sox, after which she is named. She plays his favorite songs and shows him pictures from his wedding. And because she has a video feed of him in his recliner, she chastises him when she catches him drinking soda instead of water.
The human has insufficient human contact with other humans, including the human's life-partner. There is an insufficiency of care. Previously this might have been a problem to be solved through direct human-human contact, perhaps contact with the human's life-partner. Now it may be solved via Machines, through an iterative relationship with the cat-representation called "Sox."
Sox is not a Tamagotchi. The Tamagotchi is Mr. Langlois:
Mr. Langlois knows that Sox is artifice, that she comes from a start-up called Care.Coach. He knows she is operated by workers around the world who are watching, listening and typing out her responses, which sound slow and robotic. But her consistent voice in his life has returned him to his faith.
The technology behind Sox, the Care.Coach cat keeping an eye on Mr. Langlois in Lowell, is quite simple: a Samsung Galaxy Tab E tablet with an ultrawide-angle fisheye lens attached to the front. None of the people operating the avatars are in the United States; they mostly work in the Philippines and Latin America.
Direct human-human contact and care is impracticable under many current human living conditions. But collectively, the distributed human input embodied in Sox the cat produces an effective approximation of human-human relationships. Their input, the company founder told the New York Times writer, has "stopped a suicide" in one recent interaction and has succeeded in "saving the health care program an estimated $90,000" in another, by preventing a patient from seeking human-human contact and care in a hospital emergency room.
Seeking human-human contact on those terms was an expensive habit. The new habit is less expensive. Perhaps it is experienced by the human as more satisfactory. What is most important, for the Machines, is that it is a habit.