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EDITORIAL: Mom's message about friends worth remembering

| May 12, 2024 1:00 AM

Long ago and far away, a little boy’s mother put a smile on her face and her hands on his shoulders. 

It was the morning of the boy’s first day of school, and as she leaned down and looked into his blue eyes while fighting off motherly tears of her own, she imparted a lone instruction to her kindergartner:

“Today I want you to make one friend.”

That was Mom’s advice. Like most moms’ advice it was sound, establishing a path for her son to live a long and fulfilling life.

And like some of our collective moms’ most valuable advice, perhaps it has been abandoned or at least misplaced over the years. The result, in many cases, is unhappiness, loneliness, misunderstanding and, on a far broader scale, seemingly irreversible division.

How much further from friendship, the marrow in society’s bones, can we go? Pretty far, a column by New York Times technology writer and podcaster Kevin Roose shows.

On Thursday, Roose wrote about one of the most promising and terrifying offerings of Artificial Intelligence: creating “friends” who will have virtual conversations with you whenever you want. 

He opens with this compelling question:

“What if the tech companies are all wrong, and the way artificial intelligence is poised to transform society is not by curing cancer, solving climate change or taking over boring office work, but just by being nice to us, listening to our problems and occasionally sending us racy photos?”

(Here’s a link to Kevin’s column, Meet My A.I. Friends, which might require a subscription to access: https://shorturl.at/zIV36)

While Roose shares his various experiences with make-believe pals — and yes, he got his wife’s permission before delving into racier offerings available — readers are left to consider his opening question and its underlying implications. How would you answer?

We know how Mom would. She would say that human contact, shared experience, injecting ourselves at times into the jetstream of life and living are basic needs. She would vow that as much as we all need some peace and quiet, so does the pursuit of happiness require being active participants in the human race.

Today, maybe you can make a friend.

And your mother happy.