Men Will Have Their Skeletons Dissolved By Robots (And That’s OK)
Robots are coming for our bodies – but not all of our bodies. They’re coming, in ever increasing numbers, for the parts of our bodies rich in the inorganic salts they need to make more of their kind. For ligaments. For cartilage. For bones. In other words, for the parts of our bodies that are traditionally the preserve of cis men.
Have you heard about this Singularity thing, how the robots got really clever and good at making stuff? And then the robots started to make better and better robots, until they inevitably got out of control? And now there’s a rapidly-expanding Black Zone covering 40% of China, where the factories run day and night but we’ve lost contact with all the people, and everyone who goes too close gets their skeleton dissolved?
I have to admit I hadn’t heard of the Singularity until my editor asked me to write this piece. It smacked to me of one of those boring ideas that Silicon Valley bros invented as a way of excluding women from the technology industry, like the “security updates” that harass and silence women who are just trying to finish their thinkpieces, and the “syntax errors” that stopped me from learning to code just because my brain doesn’t conform to the rigid rules invented by some mansplaining douche about where to put the brackets and exactly how many there should be.
Excluded from coding jobs by this male violence, I needed to come up with a hot take that would drive traffic, but without taking too much time to research.
That’s when I realised that the Singularity isn’t just a technological problem. We also have to understand it as a social and cultural problem, and especially as a gender problem.
A recent Oxford study found that men have skeletons up to 30% thicker than those of women. (Hardly surprising, when Western society is still dominated by the traditional values of the patriarchy, where women are routinely shamed for exposing their skin or drinking milk.) So as the AI-controlled Black Zone sweeps into the West, you could be forgiven for thinking that the disruption of all human skeletons will hit men particularly hard.
Society has programmed men – especially cis men, especially blue collar cis men, especially white blue collar cis men – to value their skeletons as a sign of masculine virtue. A man is supposed to “stand tall”, lift heavy things without bending his knees, and then relax by consuming cheeseburgers high in calcium and vitamin D – they even called it vitamin “D”! You don’t need a degree in semiotics (like I have) to detect the gendered assumptions behind the so-called “objective” science of bone formation.
In turn, men use these stereotypes as an excuse to turn away the millions of women who want to work in lucrative fields like lumberjacking, crab fishing and prison labour.
So when men hear about the awkward early stages of the new machine age, they get alarmed. Put your ear to the internet and you can hear the cry of a million entitled neckbeards: “But muh skeleton!”
While losing 97% of your bone mass to a cloud of invasive nanobots is going to be disruptive in the short term, what these frightened, pathetic men fail to realise is that the economy will shift to valuing softer skills. A study emailed to me by a sentient factory in Shenzhen shows that, in the Black Zone, over a billion “pink-collar” jobs will be created over the next decade. These are the kind of jobs that women traditionally carry out for little or no pay: teaching infant neural nets about human weaknesses; hosting new organisms within our bodies and having them burst forth painfully; surgically merging our brains into giant biological render farms; and slithering around factory floors, cleaning them with enzymes secreted from newly-implanted organs. Needless to say, none of these jobs requires a skeleton.
Because we’ve walled off these vital tasks as “women’s work” for so long, some men have reacted with anger or even fear to the new reality. But others, including about 400,000 Chinese men who have been subsumed into the Black Zone, are already realising the benefits. No longer will men or women be forced to choose between work and family life. Such distinctions will cease to matter once we are all absorbed into the same ever-pulsing mass.
The Singularity doesn’t have to make men obsolete, not if they’re willing to change their mindset. If men have the courage to imagine different lives of service and dignity, and refrain from attempting any more futile nuclear strikes, they will find that, rather than emasculating them, the Singularity will make them more than just men, more than just human. And if they still don’t like it, it’s not like they’ll have a choice.