How much is a friendship worth?

It's a bizarre question, I know, but let me explain. The other day, I was reading a post about capitalism and loneliness—it's an interesting read—and in the discussion that followed the post, someone commented:

If having friends and community is truly valuable to people, then there is a huge business opportunity to provide that value.

My gut reaction was, "Wait, what?" It's obviously provocative, and I can respect that. But I kept thinking about it for some reason. Not because I see a business opportunity—I find the idea appalling—but because it's an interesting thought exercise. And it's especially interesting with the rise of all these chat AIs. It's only a matter of time before someone creates a virtual friend, some sort of Tamagotchi on steroids. Something you can always interact with, that is never asleep, and that is always there for you. Would you pay for something like that? And how much? How much is a friendship worth?

I have had countless interactions with people I've never actually met in person or spoken with. Our interactions only happened via text. What if I were to be replaced by a chatbot? Would they notice the difference? Would you notice a difference? How do you know that this post hasn't been written by ChatGPT? And, conversely, how can I prove that it hasn't been written by ChatGPT? I could snap a picture of myself, sitting here in front of my keyboard, typing these exact words while drinking tea, but come on, I'm sure an AI can generate that picture if prompted.

In a world that will inevitably be dominated by generated content, how much are "real" interactions worth? And what's the actual value here? You can have chats with a bot these days that are probably way more interesting than an email exchange with me. Why should an interaction with me be more valuable then? I have honestly no answers to any of these questions, but I find it extremely fascinating that we've reached the point where asking them is not all that insane.

Where do you go from here?

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