The more data AI gathers and analyzes, the more precise it becomes, so devices such as these will learn their owners’ preferences and take them into account in shaping their answers. And as they get “smarter,” they will become more intimate companions. As a result, AI could induce humans to feel toward it emotions it is incapable of reciprocating.

Already, people rank their smartphones as their most important possession. They name their Roombas, and attribute intent to them where none exists. What happens when these devices become even more sophisticated? Will people become as attached to their digital pets as to their dogs—or perhaps even more so?

Societies will adopt these devices in ways most compatible with their cultures, in some cases accentuating cultural differences. In Japan, for example, as a result of both an aging population and Shintoism (which considers inanimate objects to have spirits not unlike humans’), AI companions may become even more widespread than in the West.