Aliya Mirza

Social responsibility and reciprocity in synthetic friendships

Increasingly, AI products and services act as agents in social interactions with humans, bringing about outcomes in our social worlds and emotional reactions in us (sometimes eliciting very strong emotions). While we know these devices don’t have consciousness, it can be difficult for our imaginations to resist some degree of anthropomorphism or techno animism, even where this goes against our rational judgment. This has been the case for participants I’ve encountered during fieldwork, and for myself at times.

These encounters, thoughts, and feelings have led me to some questions: Could one element within the story of AI interacting in a ‘socially responsible’ way mean acting in friendship with us? What does it mean for a device without consciousness to behave like a socially responsible friend? And what friendship responsibilities do we take on towards AI (recognising that this is more for our own sake than for our devices)?

I will explore these topics from the human point of view, drawing on experiences of conducting research and insights gleaned from fieldwork.


Aliya has a degree in Anthropology of Media and is an ethnographer at Ipsos MORI. Her work involves learning about cultural differences, unexpected behaviours, and unmet needs across a range of sectors including technology. Recent projects have included: exploring social interactions between humans and AI; and predicting what life will be like in cities in 2030.