Virtual Companionship: Should We Simulate Love?

With the evolution of technology, artificial intelligence has found its way into our homes. As such, virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo have taken over households by storm. The engineers in Japan, being the hub of technology, have taken this idea to the next level, with one company integrating holograms and programs to simulate ‘companionship’. In addition to this, major gaming companies have developed games which provide users the ability to simulate relationships through portable consoles.

Dating simulation apps first appeared in Japan in the 1980s. Japan has the second largest mobile gaming market in the world, generating sales of around $6.5 billion in 2016, according to the Global Games Market Report. These apps were predominantly only catered towards men, until 1994, when a team of female coders at Japanese gaming company Koei launched the first romance game for women, “Angelique”. In recent times, Konami’s Love Plus game and Vinclue’s Virtual Home Assistant, Gatebox, have garnered the most interest from the Japanese public. The main audience for these companies tend to be those whom are living alone, with the objective being to make their lives more fulfilling.

However, the question remains: Can you replace human love with virtual companionships? Let’s take a look at how such technologies affect the Japanese people and its society, and whether we should move towards this direction of simulated relationships.

WE SHOULD

After the war, Japan invested enormous efforts in instilling the nuclear family model of a man who is a lifetime employee of a company, a woman who is a wife, mother and housekeeper; and a place they can call home. However, after the turn of the 21st century and due to internationalism, job security is becoming a thing of the past and more stress is present on men to be the breadwinners of the family. This is further echoed in a recent study which shows that the average number of people in a Tokyo household has dropped below two for the first time, as the men are more concerned about securing a job rather than finding a partner.

In a recent social experiment conducted by Asian Boss, Japanese people regard loneliness as a serious problem. This has led to the rise of relationship simulations to assist these affected individuals in their struggle against loneliness. For a female gamer who is affected by Asperger’s syndrome, a three year relationship with Manaka (a character from the game Love Plus) has yielded therapeutic benefits. It also gave her opportunities to hone her social skills and develop more confidence in social interactions.

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An image of a simulated companion created by Vinclue

For similar reasons, Vinclue has developed a virtual home assistant which also doubles as a companion for the user. To quote Vinclue, “We want the characters be naturally in our daily lives and spend time with us”. Hence, it can be said that the main driver for Gatebox to integrate a holographic function is to provide a more immersive experience with higher levels of interaction. To accomplish this, virtual companions could make use of artificial intelligence to help ease their “master’s” lives. Assistance can range from simple everyday chores to a more advanced level of aid. Mundane activities such as checking the weather, paying the bills and switching on the heater could be done with the presence of a virtual companion at home. This helps the user have less worries, allowing them to focus while in the office or during their commute.

More sophisticated features would be for the user to be able to receive instant medical advice and prescriptions through the sensors and cameras mounted on the device. This could also be extended to alerting the emergency services when the user has suffered an unfortunate accident. As the Japanese culture is known for overworking, this level of assistance can promote better mental health of the users through the relief of stress.

From the perspective of virtue ethics, these companies’ initial intentions are not of bad nature and therefore should not be condemned for their products. As loneliness is regarded a serious issue in Japan, this would help people who feel isolated. Thus, this agrees with the utilitarian approach as a greater number of people will achieve happiness. Also, as long as this activity does not hinder others, the usage of such products are within the rights of everyone according to the freedom principle.

WE SHOULDN’T

Having a virtual partner could have a negative impact towards the Japanese population. With the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research voicing their concerns of the current declining growth rate, having a virtual relationship will further compound this situation. In addition to that, surveys have shown that a significant proportion of Japanese people have little interest in having physical relationships, and having a virtual partner will only serve to further discourage them. Further studies have shown that the percentage of Japanese males between ages 16 to 19 portraying no interest in sex have doubled to 36% in the last two years. In correlation to the decrease in growth rates, there will be an increase in the overall population age resulting in a demographic imbalance. The virtual relationship industry has targeted a society which has a significant percentage of people yearning for simulated intimacy.

One of the major aspects which contributes to these issues is the societal mindset of certain individuals. Some Japanese men are unenthusiastic about their futures as they are uncertain that they will reach their career and relationship goals. Through these virtual relationships, they have an avenue to receive instant gratification without the commitments of a real relationship. Furthermore, the leading female character of Gatebox, Hikari Azuma, caters to the tastes of the Japanese otaku, which have seen a rise in numbers over the recent years. The owners are seen as “masters”, which also feeds the stereotype of the submissive nature of Asian women.

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Typical room of an otaku

Moreover, there is a concern that the privacy of the user might be compromised. For example, Gatebox’s virtual companion integrates a variety of sensors, cameras, and microphones to function. These provide the ideal tools for a hacker to obtain sensitive information of a certain individual.

In addition to that, Hikari has an integrated messaging app, which sends periodic messages to its “master” with reminders that “she” misses him, and prompts for him to come home early from work. This can be a distraction to the user, especially when driving, having meetings, and walking on public roads.

This virtual substitute for happiness also comes at a price. Virtual romance games utilise in-game purchases, which forces the players to part with their cash to unlock more features or storylines. Furthermore, the inclusion of the “relationship” feature by Gatebox significantly increases its price over other home assistants.

Finally, although this may primarily be a bigger concern for Japan, the virtual gaming phenomenon is slowly trickling out to a global audience as well. Voltage, a global leader in female romance simulation apps, have released English versions of their games to cater to the American and European market. They claim that their games have been played by 50 million users globally. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before products like Gatebox enter the international market as well.

From an ethical framework point of view, Kant’s theory states that the action taken must respect the goals of the general population rather than merely for the individual’s own advantage. Considering this, we believe that this technology should not be focused purely as a substitute for companionship as it will severely disrupt the status quo of the Japanese society. This judgement is also backed by the utilitarian approach as it would benefit the majority at the expense of a minority group.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while simulated relationships have certain benefits, the overall effect it has on the society can be detrimental. Hence, we believe that advancements in artificial intelligence technology should focus purely on providing assistance rather than companionships.

Group 18: Nicolas Lum, Royce Hii, Seng Tan & Tyen Woon

 

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33 thoughts on “Virtual Companionship: Should We Simulate Love?

  1. Humans are inherently social creatures, simulated relationships – codes- cannot substitute for the ‘real’ experience. Simulated relationships would also run a risk of being one dimensional.

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  2. AI is increasingly being adopted in various fields not to mention in the hospitality, medical fields….etc.

    It’s a breakthrough for many manufacturing sectors, production lines that resulted in improved yields and productivity.

    But there’s just no substitute to human relationship or companionship other than human themselves.

    Like

  3. A great read! I like the idea of having a virtual assistant at home like what Google and Amazon makes but this takes it to whole other level. I think that this technology is definitely the way forward as it goes beyond a device that help us with mundane chores but something that can connect with us on an emotional level.

    Using robots to solve human emotional problems is not a new thing. There have been robots (eg. Paro Seal) which are used to help people with dementia to keep them company and their minds active. This would be able to resolve the loneliness problem that is common in victims of dementia. This is necessary as it is difficult for humans to be able to be there for them all the time.

    They may not be able to fully replace an actual human companion at this moment but this technology will definitely improve in the future. Technology is becoming more life-like with the rise of AI and it is interesting to see how it is being utilised in virtual assistants.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. It is interesting that virtual relationships can be used to solve illnesses such as dementia. This technology can definitely be applied to the older generation as they would also be susceptible to loneliness.

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  4. As a modern society, we are constantly finding new ways to improve our lives with the help of technology and now with AI being on the horizon of the possibility of replacing actual relationships, it could be breakthrough. Indeed virtual assistant is slowly becoming more popular as more companies are trying to implement this and hope that it could benefit us in the future however, this on the other hand could negatively impact our society.

    Of course this can be of aid in our society should someone be feeling lonely as they will know that this “character” are always programmed to help and alleviate loneliness. I strongly agree with the writers of this group that AI should solely provide us assistance, perhaps to run our lives more efficiently or just being there when needed; instead of fully replacing a human companionship.

    As of now, we are still not technologically advanced to replace human companionship and I believe that it will take a long time to replace what nature has given to us.

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  5. Companion & love is interrelated which are nature gifted not only to mankinds but also to ALL other creatures. Both having their specific goal in life i.e. to achieve a total complete happiness.

    Love is eternal & infinity & correlates with feelings in any companionships – a mothers love for e.g. are an endless companionship which has no substitute..

    The consequences hipothesis of simulating love via virtual companionship might intend to create an unjustifiable community morality in upcoming generation…

    There shall be always a limitition of technologies in exploring the nature gifted of love & companionship….

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  6. Living in modern technology, one can easily find ‘love’ through media like facebook, wechat and so on.
    Virtual companionship is more like a temporary phase which human can depend on and then once we are satisfied with it, it will be back to square one, where humans will depend on human relationship.
    I agree virtual companionship helps for lonely people but not for long.
    Eventually human will need physical attention, caring and love.

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  7. I agree with the opinions of this article as I strongly believe that it is absolutely crucial to aid the vast majority of the Japanese population instead of hindering it by developing virtual relationships which would almost be impossible as the human brain is one of the most complex systems in nature itself.

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  8. There seems to be some cultural biases in the article as it is mainly focused on the Japanese, at the turn of the century, many cultures have progressed, encouraging women to work rather than submissive housewives. Men are no longer the sole breadwinner, thus, the arguments for virtual companionship in this article may not apply to the more progressive cultures. It may even be damaging to the advancement of women in societies. The article could also use the Academy Award Winning original screenplay “Her” (2013) which portrayed the same concept of virtual companionship to provide a Western culture perspective on the subject of AI companionship.

    To elaborate on the point of the case of the woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, i think virtual companionship can be useful if it is in a non-romantic sense. Therapeutic procedures can be programmed into these “companions to help people going through psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. Patients can perform helpful exercises to hone their social skills if they are not ready to interact with other people.

    However, this virtual companionship should not be romantic as it can affect population growth and lead to a contraction in the potential productive capacity of an economy as mentioned in the article. This type of virtual romantic companionship may indirectly encourage introversion and social anxiety when communicating with other humans. Humans are fundamentally social creatures and protect and connect by teamwork, so it may not be healthy to replace human contact with artificial intelligence.

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  9. I think that the advancement of technology really do help us as mankind as a whole in a lot of ways, ease most of our trouble.
    But what I don’t agree here is, the advancement of AI wont really reduce our world population, as humans are meant to live in a group, a grouped society. We tend seek for human interactions, although the technology is providing them what they want for now, but deep down, we all need someone real, to be there for you, and provide physical affection and contacts. This only affect certain group of people, not most, the whole paragraph was a slippery slop.

    But overall it’s a good article, worth the read, and the time to think about what would technology leads us as a mankind as whole. I do agree on most of the points but it’s all only based on current technology.
    What if one day we can reproduce, even without the physical interaction between people? Only technology and the future can tell

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  10. Love shouldn’t be simulated as it is a sacred relationship between people. I don’t think any sort of simulation can ever beat true human companionship and therefore do not support this. But on the other hand, this project might be able to help people understand better understand the complexities and intricacies behind the human mind. Loneliness may be an issue but there are a lot more ways to solve it than simulate relationships. Still, the project might give a greater insight into the human mind for projects like Connectome.

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  11. Fascinating. Mankind is in danger of being replaced with pseudo love. To think in the next 5-10 years where would this further evolved. We are in a world of disruptive technology and nothing is spared including good old fashioned love. Good article.

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  12. We should not look away from such advancement in technology especially with artificial intelligence. In this article, AI is replacing human for a romanticized companionship. From what I see it could bring more benefits in both the social, physical and mental well-being for an individual or as a collective.

    First, we need to understand what it means to ‘lack’ love or care. A person that does not have a human companion does not mean he/she is not loved. Vise versa, a person that is loved does not mean he/she will need a human companion. Hence, this is where AI fills the gap. To simulate love virtually does not necessary void human love entirely. Let us take a look to the mentioned three factors: social, physical and mental.

    ‘Humans are social creatures’. I very well agree to this. However, it is observed that not everyone wants to be socially active within their circle or environment. We, people have emotions thus we feel shyness, fear to interact, trauma of past events hindering social attitude etc. Now AI in this sense helps is to create the bridge to connect the social fear these individuals fear. It may be in the form of virtual love, but imagine this. An introvert in a work place living alone would no doubt try to avoid interactions as much as he/she could. If we introduce an AI into their lives, there is a complete elimination of criticism or backlash the individual will receive. In simple words, there is only 100% love from the AI. With this, the individual will feel comfortable again to communicate or even be better. In addition, the person will feel happier which boost mental health and productivity in the workplace.

    Physically, AI could be programmed to encourage physical exercises which obviously takes into account the person’s physical structure. If the device has a microphone and a camera I do not see why this could not happen.

    Motivation encourages a person, thus no doubt if motivation comes from an AI the person will also be motivated. We all know a motivated person will yield higher productivity, have a higher endurance level of stress and subject to more creativity. Let us not forget that such attitude can also influence those around him/her hence lift the spirit of the atmosphere may it be in the workplace or study place etc.

    The article also touched areas where ‘declination of population growth’, ‘distraction during work’ and ‘accident happening from notifications’. First, population growth is not something concerning. With or without AI love simulations, decline in population growth is still a persistent matter BUT with AI such ‘singles’ or ‘introverts’ that we speak off can at least be happy. Next, distraction during work. If each notification are structured to provide positive addition to a person (example: daily reminders, encouraging words), would it not boost the person’s mood and work ethics! Finally, accident from notifications. Is this not something that has happened since the introduction of smart technologies? Yet, it has proven that such technologies are saving people’s life from the error in human judgement especially on road.

    Overall, this is an interesting article but we should not overlook the potential of technology. It may be a no no for some cultures, religion or beliefs but as human civilization progresses it is without a doubt that technology and human must co-exist to live into the future.

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  13. Overall a very good and interesting read as it provides an insight on where technology has brought us. This article also highlights the social issues faced by the Japanese and is definitely something to be concerned of.

    A.I., if used appropriately, is a great tool where it aids human in making various simple or complex decisions. However, care must be taken to ensure that A.I. does not replace our thought process.

    Similar to the case of virtual relationship. Virtual relationships, with proper guidance, will allow one to understand the importance of responsibility, commitment in a relationship. It also teaches one to love and care. However, it can also be drastic when one gets addicted, resulting in social incompetence and over relying on virtual partners.

    The key here will be the word ‘guidance’. Similar to an infant, human will have to be guided on the use of A.I. whether in terms of assistance or companionship. Everything will have its own pros and cons, it is how we approach things that matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It will be sad if mankind has to resort to technology to feel what love is. In my opinion the cons far outweigh the pros. Human feelings towards one another is a beautiful thing. Real emotions which feed our soul can only be shared by humans. Country like Japan in this case has to come up with initiatives to educate the young on importance of true lasting relationships and love to build families.

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  15. Presently, many societies live urban lifestyles that promote independence to the point where nearly all human contact could be redundant in daily life. In such an environment, younger generations have smaller social circles and some may lack practice in their social skills. Virtual companionship can be utilised to help a person in these conditions learn “social tact”.

    Also, having a virtual partner would also be beneficial for people with no one to talk to and are experiencing difficulties like: loneliness, depression, stress, etc. Currently there are services for people to utilise for this purpose as well, but there may be individuals who are not comfortable talking & disclosing private information to strangers.

    To dismiss this tool as a distraction in daily life is overkill. This issue may come to light on several occasions but this is would be due to the users decisions. Ultimately, moderation of usage should be key, and a tool/application should not be blamed for the flaws of its user decision making skills.

    In addition, charging a fee for such services would not be outlandish. We pay money for entertainment, leisure, & luxury, how is paying for a tool/virtual partner/game any different? This non-issue only become a problem when people start purchasing things that are out of their means. Across the world people are spending beyond their means and accumulating debt, this issue has always been existent. To further counter argue would be that such high sales volume would provide a better outlook from an economic standpoint as there would be more revenue/income generated & more jobs for maintaining such virtual companion databases.

    Overall, Virtual Companionship can be listed as a byproduct of urban living that emphasises on self-sufficiency too much. In our current society, we could live our entire lives with little to no human interaction. As such, a personal companion, ideal to all its users, would inevitably be born as our society emphasises less on coming together as people to grow/advance and instead focuses on individuals constantly thinking about themselves and only themselves.

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  16. Overall a rather well-written article on an interesting topic mainly affecting the Japanese population. First and foremost, kudos to the authors for presenting both the pros and cons of virtual companionship/assistance/relationship, although the disadvantages seemed to outweigh the advantages. I agree with them that the overall effects virtual companionship on the society is detrimental. Ultimately, there is no substitute for the real companionship, care and love that can only be provided by human beings.

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  17. Very good article! Implications for not just Japan’s aging population but the rest of humanity. With this sweeping wave of interpersonal interactions being replaced by alternative pseudo experiences it has got to cost a lot. Is the price worth it???

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Very interesting read, giving the pros & cons. At the end of the day, I personally think that nothing can replace physical & personal relationships.

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  19. Interesting read. The pros definitely outweighed the cons. Nothing can replace personal relationships. Article well written

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  20. A unique and interesting choice of topic. I like how you have taken the time to state the pros and cons. Like the comments above, I believe that using artificial intelligence to try to fufill someone’s need for companionship isn’t the way. There’s a difference between reality and some thing that is just being programmed. All in all, I agree with your conclusion. Kudos to the writers of this article.

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  21. Virtual and Holographic technologies have come of age.
    Nothing can stop it. Whether in Japan or in any developed countries.
    As in any tech, new ones are a matter of need or want.
    NEED- is when that’s a deficiency arising from a void to be filled bcos that’s no time for the real thing and without it..you’ll end up a cookoo in the future ..and YES love is one aspect, apart from others related to love.
    Example- when you’re young and chasing the buck for a better lifestyle..and of course Better Tech Devices (at the end all of us will be working for people who develops them)..and human relationships takes a back seat, not bcos we don’t want them, but rather we can’t afford them or has no time for them.
    2 people do uses up more money than 1..and a day still has only 24 hours.
    WANT- is when you can afford everything and virtual realities are just fringe benefits.
    And the rich just love fringe benefits.
    People are already using Holographic tech to “speak” in seminars, conventions etc bcos they needed to or have to be somewhere else. And others uses it to greet him when he comes home when she’s not around.
    Vitrial realities are not really reality..they’re just Virtual.
    They will NOT get into a fight with you..and even when you do..!..they’ll let you win all the time..to some people, that’s love…if your perception of love is when everything is fine and dandy and when he/she has only the right things to say or do and will never put you in a disadvantage position. Then you’re living in the right century.
    They’ll do a lot for your ego..and a lot of good.. “lF”..if realise they’re only Virtual.
    They’ll dig a deeper hole for you if you believe they’re “Real”..bcos in a physical relationship “you can’t handle the truth”.
    At the end — we’re all victims of our own circumstances.
    Just 50 years ago, we played with wooden tops, flew kites, played ‘catching’, hit each other silly with tennis balls..they were ‘real’..we really got hurt, and that was real too.
    But we also laughed and played together with the most basic of toys..that we invented and compromised and improvised ourselves.
    We could hold all these things close to our hearts and the memories forever..they were not virtual..they were real.
    Nowadays people have their own reality..unfortunately more virtual than real.
    But this is Human Technology..the changing of times.. whether it’s better or not is a matter of interpretation.
    Whether we are more happy or otherwise is a matter of believe.
    Every generation evolves to something we hardly comprehend..and the right thing to do is to accept with an open mind..or what’s left of it after trying to understand.
    The ultimate question is to know what’s Good and what’s Bad in a personal capacity.
    And the grand wisdom is to know the Difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Interesting read. Nothing that man invent, can ever simulate the real love of a parent, offspring, sibling, friend, soulmate and pet. I think virtual love can only temporary fill the void of the lonely and depressed. The physical touch such as a simple hug and touch is powerful, therapeutic and irreplaceable. Relationships and bonding have already suffered so much due to technology such as smartphones taking over at the dinner table, social gatherings, dates and so on. Don’t let it take over our lives completely till we become like them… robots with no feelings.

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  23. An interesting topic and well presented with its pros and cons. I’m glad that companionship is acknowledged as a vital need for humans. Otherwise, Eve would not have been created. When God created Adam, He did not want him to be lonely, and this just goes to show that we have been created with that need of companionship. However, it’s so sad that when we face that void, we turn to virtual relationships instead of taking healthy steps to fill that void. Living in a virtual world is a deception in itself and would lead ultimately to more harm than good. Why don’t we make time to build healthy relationships and give priority to where it belongs? People rather than things; others rather than self?

    I strongly agree with your conclusion as nothing can replace human relationships. Leave Science and technology to enhance our lifestyle and not usurp the place of relationships which should be nourished and cultivated with effort and care. If we can relate and choose to relate, we would certainly not lack in companionship!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. No matter how advanced modern technology has evolved or how welcomed it is with the advent of modern conveniences, nothing can ever take the place of human complexities and emotions. I would hate to imagine a world of humans devoid of feelings living like robots in exchange for materialism.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. In certain perspective of life its agreable tht technology advancement can enhance our way of life. However, simulating love through virtual companionship cannot be compared to real human’s love which is somethg pure n related to feelings – that technology cant replace a human’s feeling of physical, personal attachment, passion or desire.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Human beings need to love and be loved. Nothing can simulate or replace that intangible, yet important emotion/feeling that validates us as real humans, not robots devoid of emotions. To have to resort to simulating love companionship through AI would be like having another virtual toy. No real love! It’s artificial, period.

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  27. Anything that is programmed including AI can never replace true human emotions. Sure, tiny smart sensors can detect and measure bodily responses to stimuli which in turn can trigger responses from a virtual companion but the thing is, these responses are determined by an algorithm programmed by a human and programmers typically lack emotions…hahaha just kidding. I would love to have a Baymax from Big Hero 6 at home but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

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  28. The feelings and emotions of a human cannot be simulated nor replicated by technology. Those who are in need of company or companionship needs human attention. I hate to imagine a world that’s completely dependent on technology in the love department

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  29. With a declining birth rate in Japan, writing programs that simulate love seems like a bad idea because it will further contribute to this problem. Having a declining birth rate will lead to more problems in the country in the long run due to the shrinking labour force. such as the shrinking of the Japanese economy. There are many initiatives by the Japanese government to increase the number of marriages in the hopes that the birth rate will increase so simulating love would be a step back.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3464969/Japan-census-Population-nearly-1-million-2010.html

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