In 2018, Google’s introduced Duplex, a software program capable of making phone calls in natural, human-realistic conversational language. When Duplex made that first phone call, onlookers understood the profound possibility: no one has to talk on the phone again, ever.
The software disruption of phone calls carries broad implications for society:
- Hey Google, order my pizza.
- Hey Google, call grandma and wish her a happy birthday.
- Hey Google, handle all my incoming and outgoing calls so I never have to talk to strangers, ever
Interacting with strangers has always been a problem for humanity. Our species evolved within the context of small groups, likely within the boundaries of the 150-member Dunbar Number: the number of people that our brains can comfortably maintain stable relationships. The unfortunate development of civilization caused humans to have to deal with increasing numbers of strangers, far beyond what our brains were meant to handle.
The telephone epitomizes this unnatural level of socializing, as each phone represents a node within a network of billions of strangers. At any given moment a stranger could reach out to you through your phone, demanding immediate use of unnatural social skills. Our neolithic ancestors would be horrified.
In Sundar Pichai’s launch of Google Duplex he emphasized how human interactions constantly get in the way of productivity. Fortunately, interacting with strangers is rapidly ending as Human Exposure Reduction Measures Involving Technology, (aka HERMITs) continuously enter the market.
The automated phone call is a big step in the HERMIT movement, but other innovations have also been making advancements in the social-reduction space. Self-checkout cashiers, online shopping, AI chatbots, online education, and remote work demonstrate the growing support of HERMITs. This isn’t just about productivity enhancement, it’s about social anxiety reduction on a massive scale.
Hopefully within a generation, technology will allow us to return to life within the comfort of Dunbar Number-sized communities, by automating all extra-Dunbar stranger-encounters. Malcolm Gladwell would have us believe that Talking to Strangers is something worthwhile, but I’m hesitant to trust his opinion, seeing as he’s a stranger to me. Talking with strangers exposes me to ideas that can scare me, trigger me, offend me, challenge me and force me to see from others’ perspectives. These are things that my human brain was never meant to do: grow socially and intellectually.
The frontier of the HERMIT movement will be the reduction in interactions well within the Dunbar Number. Through technology, we could continuously reduce our interactions with society, communities, friends and maybe even close relatives or loved ones. If 150 is the number of relationships our brains can comfortably maintain, think of how much more comfortable our brains could be with each incremental relationship reduction.
The ultimate Dunbar Number or Lowest Obtainable Number of Essential Relationships (LONER) will inevitably be one: a digital assistant. Whether her name is Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, or simply Her, our last relationship that we will ever need will be the one that is able to handle all external interactions on our behalf.
This final HERMIT will enable us to be maximally productive while living in the complete mental comfort of a LONER lifestyle. A society that has achieved perfect LONER status will be one where no one ever has to leave their comfort zone, or get in an argument, or empathize, or engage with difficult thoughts or feelings.
As the HERMIT movement progresses towards a LONER future, humanity stands to benefit from increased productivity, anxiety reduction and mental comfort. Our liberated time and mental energy can finally be spent on things that gives us true meaning and happiness:
Material wealth accumulation.
Below is the accompanying video I made, illustrating the wonderful possibilities of HERMIT-enabled LONER lifestyles. If you’re interested in more videos, check out and subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Originally published at https://digitalabsurdist.com on April 13, 2020.