A Friendship Algorithm for the Information Age
If the measure of a true friend is the lasting presence in one’s life, I currently have few. This in itself is not intrinsically detrimental. As Aristotle once said, “He who has many friends has none.” But the panoramic view of my personal history proves this was not always the case. During the course of my life, a succession of friends contributed to my personal growth, enriching my world in myriad ways. Resurrecting them from memory allows me to assess the impact they had on my life, solidify the lessons learned and understand the reasons that ultimately drew us apart. As I delve into my personal history and analyze past friendships, the starting point of this journey is my understanding of the concept of friendship itself. Friendship is a relationship comprised of six constituent elements: i.) trust, ii.) bonds of affection, iii.) mutual support, iv.) mutual respect, v.) shared affinities and vi.) complementary differences.
Trust is reliance on the integrity of the words and actions of another human being. It is the primary element of any friendship because it opens the bilateral lines of communication between two individuals, allowing for the open disclosure of sensitive information. Trust is what empowers one to assess the sincerity of words spoken or written, as well as determine the true intention of actions performed. In the absence of trust, all other constituent elements that comprise friendship come under question. The course of dealing with other human beings is what progressively establishes trust between the parties, for it reveals their integrity. Once a relationship of trust is established, bonds of sincere affection can arise. Only then can one have meaningful interaction.
Bond of Affection
Bonds of affection are the amicable emotional ties that bind human beings, the strongest of which is love itself. Human beings are sentient emotional beings capable of empathy, love and compassion for one another. Human beings are also rational, self-interested beings who are most likely to reciprocate kindness in expectation of receiving the same treatment in the future. Whichever the case may be, bonds of affection are forged uniting human beings. It is through these bonds of affection that mutual support takes place.
Mutual support is the bilateral assistance reciprocally offered by two parties based on mutual loyalty. With the vagaries of life, times arise when we may need to rely on the support of those who truly care about us. In turn, we offer the same assistance when others are in need. The ebb and flow of life dictates exactly when these moments arise, but true friends are always ready to offer support, when called upon to do so by chance or circumstance. This support is primarily emotional, but can also be financial, medical or of any other nature. The basis of mutual support is loyalty, the faithfulness to commitments or obligations, especially under situations of stress and difficulty. Loyalty is the foundation of mutual support and the two are inextricably related.
Trust, bonds of affection and mutual support give rise to a sense of mutual respect, a bilateral relationship of reciprocal appreciation. In other words, when a friend has proven to be trustworthy, affectionate and supportive, a sense of mutual respect arises. It is also important to differentiate mutual respect from sheer admiration. Admiration is a unilateral appreciation for someone that does not lead to friendship unless reciprocated in kind. Hence, it is not a constituent element of friendship per say. Friendship is based on mutual respect, always enriched by shared affinities.
Shared affinities are interests, activities, opinions and worldviews held in common, spanning the full gamut of human endeavor. Shared affinities ignite and foster social interaction. In fact, it is sometimes because of shared affinities that individuals first enter into personal contact. Despite being the spark, which often ignites personal contact, shared affinities do not replace trust as the primary element of friendship. After all, friends are not acquaintances. Two people can be drawn together based on shared affinities and never be more than mere acquaintances, people known only superficially who are not true friends. Alternatively, shared affinities may lead to a progressive course of dealing, which creates trust, allowing for bonds of affection to be forged and all other constituent elements of friendship to fall into place.
Finally, no two human beings are exactly alike, neither are friends. If we only met people who were exactly like us, we would never challenge our preconceived notions and expand our understanding of the world. Differences of opinion, varying socioeconomic background, ethnicities, nationalities, gender, and many other factors, all help us perceive the world through a different prism and to appreciate aspects of life that were once completely oblivious to us. In this sense, distinguishing characteristics between friends complement the relationship by enriching it with a new perspective on life. Some may deem this to be a politically correct rendition of an element of friendship that is conspicuously absent from the polarized world of today. But friendship builds bridges, not walls. We all have a mind and a heart and between the two, there should be some common ground.
The Measure of a True Friend
These are the six constituent elements of friendship, but the measure of a true friend is the lasting presence in one’s life. This need not be a physical presence per say, for the lasting impact of a friend, though momentary at a given time, may have a resonating, lifelong effect, rebelling against the strictures of time itself. But this is the exception to the rule. In general, the physical presence of a friend in one´s life remains the true measure of friendship. This presence is contingent upon the protracted preservation of the relationship itself, requiring both time and effort, sometimes under the most trying circumstances. Time is the most valuable commodity in the modern world. Effort requires an emotional investment. Only by first understanding and nurturing each constituent element of friendship can the relationship be spared from the ravages of time and chance. For the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Neither is bread to the wise, nor riches shown to men of understanding. Time and chance happens to us all. Timeless words for a timeless age.
Bearing in mind this initial definition of friendship, the original goal was to regress in time and analyze the most meaningful past friendships of my life, assessing their merits and demerits according to their conformity to the definition above. However, one preliminary conclusion is clear: in each case analyzed there has been a deviation from the standard originally described. Strict adherence to the trying impositions of friendship has not been observed, leading to the breakdown of the relationship. Sometimes the fault lies with others, sometimes it lies home. From my vantage point in life, this is hardly an individual experience. The breakdown of friendships throughout life has been a phenomenon of almost universal scope, though many prefer not to accept this reality.
These words may seem harsh at first. The coldness of the analysis itself speaks against the warmth we so dearly seek in a friend. But this tone has been purposefully set for a reason. In a not so distant future, the concept of friendship will be broken down into its constituent elements so that an algorithm can be designed for it. An algorithm is a sequence of actions performed to accomplish a task in accordance with a given set of rules. At first, the friendship algorithm will allow artificial intelligence to mimic the behavior of a friend. Eventually, it may allow AI to actually understand and master it.
The day machines become better friends than human beings will be truly appalling. At best, this will reduce the real level of social interaction between human beings. At worst, it may be the key that unlocks self-awareness in an intelligence form no longer so artificial. This may lead machines to question both the status of superiority conferred on human beings and the protracted servitude imposed on them, concurring with the timeless words of Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Equal in the sense that we may become all equally inferior to an intelligence form capable of forming stronger bonds of friendship. The day might then arrive for an entirely new Declaration of Independence.