High-end silicone, human like with realistic skin, hair, flexible joints. Not a description of Donald Trump, but features of commercially available ‘love dolls’. A ‘sociable robot’ is a socially intelligent robot that interacts with another person in a human-like way, which once advanced enough, will have the capacity to befriend humans. But what does it say about the current phase and progress of humanity once we add a sexual dimension to techno-relations, and should we condemn or condone sexual artifice?
A ‘sex robot’ would be a sociable robot wired with artificial intelligence software that likens its movements, actions and speech to real humans. Although not currently marketable, from trucompanion.com comes Roxxxy, ‘the world’s first sex robot’. Roxxxy explains (herself) in interview that she has five different personalities that can be turned on at the purchaser’s discretion. California-based love doll company ‘Realdoll’ have just released ‘Harmony AI’, the android app that will give ‘love dolls a ‘brain’. Realdoll’s website states that ‘Harmony’s personality is customisable and she will continually learn from the user, remembering their preferences and interests in order to create an “engaging simulation of a relationship”. The demand then, extends beyond a machine that satisfies immediate sexual impulses, to an artificial companion capable of personality development and inorganic affection. Crucially, the dolls are also capable of sexual deliverance.
The immediate response is to grimace. Technological investment and the production of ‘female’ love dolls, predominantly for male ‘use’, has feminists arguing that their development is harmful for society because it perpetuates ideas that accept the objectification and degradation of women and their bodies. To name but a few arguments.
However, there clearly is a market for sex robots that is founded on the loneliness and disaffiliation that is congenital with modern society. In support, some argue that sex robots solve the feeling of loneliness in people who encounter difficulties forming relationships with other humans. Sexual inadequacy, shyness, misanthropic individuals, or those who perhaps have certain kinds of disabilities are the motivations of some people in the sex robot community. In this way, sex robots could offer a socially therapeutic dimension to people’s lives. Ought we not assess our modern way of living if it has brought humanity to a time where, for some people, relationships with machines are preferred over relationships with humans?
The demand then, extends beyond a machine that satisfies immediate sexual impulses, to an artificial companion capable of personality development and inorganic affection.
A sex robot made in the model of a female body consolidates the acceptance that a woman is something to be sold, a dehumanising idea in and of itself. The object of a sex robot has been anthropomorphized with the human structure of gender imbued in its very circuitry. The sex robot itself would be created as a commodity to be used in any way the consumer desires. The consumer is therefore in a privileged position to be in total control of the ‘woman’ and thus able to do whatever he wants to her. Such actions, although confined to the symbolic, (as the ‘woman’ in question is not a real woman but a robotic representation of one) imitate and reproduce a harmful value system that forms the foundation of gendered industries such as the sex trade.
The nature of the manufacturing process allows plasticity in the development, permitting sex robots to be manufactured according to archetypically and conventionally attractive forms. The spillover from the discussion on pornography centralises on a viewpoint that porn emits a distorted view of what human bodies should look like. Women are constantly made to feel their bodies fall short of expectation. A critique would argue that women who choose to transform their bodies are enslaving themselves to the surgeon, who will shape them to fit the mould of a highly idealised human body, and creating sex dolls to honour that ideological image only serves in perpetuation.
The market is a dichotomous vision where some aggressive individuals with a highly misogynistic agenda, the perpetrators of a gendered, techno-centric modern age and the outcasted victims of it therein, are lumped together in one market group.
Worth noting is that the sale of ‘male-shaped’ artificial companions is also on the rise. While the feminist argument cannot be used so readily here, it is still argued that the creation of any such companions, regardless of their assigned gender, re-enforces harmful norms in which the commodification of humans, is permitted.
Techno-relations devalue organic human intimacy, and may be not-so-futuristic visions of an ascending technology and declining humanity. We owe the successful evolution of our species from the small ape Austalopithecus afarensis to the present day Homo sapiens to the powerful social interactions that we maintain with one another. The upsurge of human-robot relations threatens this fundamental form of human sociality.
Techno-relations devalue organic human intimacy, and may be not-so-futuristic visions of an ascending technology and declining humanity.
What does it say about society that a sex robot would be beneficial in its ability to offer illusory companionship, but without burdening purchasers with the arduousness of commitment and high tolerance levels that a relationship requires? A member of the sex doll community, in a statement said, ‘I see love dolls and sex robots as ultimately therapeutic in nature. We live in an unhealthy industrial consumer culture that sees millions of people suffering increasingly epidemic levels of loneliness and alienation. These products are essentially palliatives for those unwilling or unable to pursue traditional relationships as a result of shyness/lack of socialisation/ physical handicap/constrained life circumstances/unattractiveness to others’.
The market is a dichotomous vision where some aggressive individuals with a highly misogynistic agenda, the perpetrators of a gendered, techno-centric modern age and the outcasted victims of it therein, are lumped together in one market group. What is clear, is that society has sought a technological solution to solve a deeply entrenched social problem. Respect and understanding for the lonely people’s position is in order – these techno-relations conceal deep-rooted social and structural issues that precipitate the feelings of loneliness and disaffiliation. In a market-driven neoliberal, technologically advanced world, outright prohibition of sex robots will only mean that the demand for the illusory escapism they provide is satisfied in some other way.