Sex. Robot. Way ahead.

Let’s start with sex. It’s the strongest driver in life. Also, the driver for economic progress — as captured in the cliche that sex is the oldest industry on earth. In our present day, sex has become the technological driver serving an economic purpose. A solid proof is the crucial internet technology advancements, such as e-commerce and broadband, driven by the porn industry. Today we have handy sex toys remotely controlled by smartphones so couples can enact on their intimacy despite long-distance. This makes it possible for a Chinese dating app to provide a one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many safe sex social platform for its members who don’t need to meet at all. And how long do you think it will take the adult business to grasp transmission of physical sensations to online customers through porn virtual reality (VR) suit with smart textile?

Hurrah to our (re)claim of our sexuality with the help of technology that yields us safer, more individualised and convenient options. If the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) entails a blurred boundary between human and robot, we better update our perception of the robot as not just R2D2 in Star Wars nor a robotic arm repeating the same actions in factories production lines. In essence, a robot can be “a replacement of (part of) human which is aided by technology”. From pacemakers to drone missiles and robot butlers to sex toys.

Imagine a weekend evening while you’re gaming online, the smart devices in your kitchen, which have processed their accumulated learning of your habits and are synchronised intelligently, are preparing your dinner for you. Later that night, your robot vacuum cleaner is moving swiftly around in your apartment as you’re attending the 3D laser hologram concert with the Beatles. Once return home, a bath tub filled with scented hot water is waiting for you with the rightly dimmed light. When you’ve dried yourself, you can just jump into your VR suit and have sex with it, with yourself, with your social network or any virtual person/characters of your fancy.

Does this sound far out? Then why are parents sticking a smartphone into the crib to entertain their baby so they can concentrate on their own smartphones has become an accepted parenting behaviour today? We used to think and still hope that love is a unique characteristic of us human. However, child care and elderly care are being institutionalised. Child-bearing can be outsourced. Sex can be done without a human. Should we be more concern about the blurring line between human and robot in the 4IR or the lines between us and our loved one gets drawn further apart — not by technology itself. But rather the ways we use technology.

Humanity doesn’t need to retreat into our own self (or shell) as technology moves forward. However, we have long surrendered our lives to the way economy runs society. Just look at our creative process. As children, we’re all creative and resourceful. Yet we all became a specialist of some sort as we grow into our finely compartmentalised society. Our food, water, clothes, home, health and even self-understanding can all be outsourced and purchased. How many of us are able to get water, make fire, grow our own food, harvest them and made a meal from scratch?

How come a down-to-earth and life confirming act of planting a plant is often prohibited in the public area in most cities today? Most of the city-dwellers are being trained to be obedient citizens who paid tax to the local government which employed staffs to outsource a management company which contracted a plant company to plant the plants for us. Life-giving initiatives as such from local residents were often removed since the plants they planted fall outside the management reporting scheme and control system. Our modern society has alienated us from who we are as human. We don’t even know how to take care of the resources that are bestowed upon us and the eco-system that sustains us.

The questioning of The True Cost of fast fashion illuminates vividly our lack of respect to the limited resources that our planet has provided. What on earth do we have as evidence that we can continue to grow endlessly? When our company can’t have cheap labour to keep the cost low and thus a tempting “growth” rate to investors, we move to yet another more under-developed countries or/and install more robots. Still with none consideration of our total environmental impact. Our “growth” driven economy has driven lives to extinction already. Back then, the native Indians hunted the buffalo for meat and used all parts of the animal. Next came settlers who hunted as a game first and then as a strategy to wipe out the Indians’ livelihood. They must have regarded their act as productive and constructive. Ever since the 1st Industry Revolution, we were being brought up to perpetuate a blind production and consumption. So many of us stay in our jobs thinking that is because we need to bring bread to the table. In fact, we are merely workers that keep greasing the spinning wheels of a dividend-driven machine that chases an endless and ever-increasing “growth” rate.

Let’s get the record straight. No robots come into our lives out of their own free will (yet). They emerge because of our technology advancement, which is driven by research money, which requires ROI and thus have to have the technology’s and robot’s wide application into our lives and extensive sales. Increased productivity results from robotic technology will no longer be about how to produce a plastic mug cheaper and faster. The productivity of today and tomorrow will not only invade our sexuality. But our humanity at large.

Nothing can replace a real human but a lot of humans had done and can do more harm than good. Yet it’s the silent mass that feeds the totalitarian regimes or power centers like the Roman Catholic church vs. Darwin and Galileo. It’s you and me that try to make a living rather than making waves that empower the tyranny. The day a robot can replace a human remains our wildest dream so far. Yet our own neglect of our humanity and surrendering it to political stability and/or economic progress run on the technology fast track is not just a nightmare. It’s reality.

In conclusion, “What technology enables us” and “How we use technology” are two questions that will lead human into two widely different existence. Way ahead as we ponder the benefits and threats of AI, machine learning, cognitive computing or whatever that will come next, we better also look into the mirror and our bank account. How much are we willing to let technology and the economic + political + social context that sustains it to define our humanity?

We have surrendered part of our humanity to the way our lives are organized. Bureaucracy, commercialization, the excuse of terrorism and the boiling frog syndrome that give politicians more and more power are common in both east and west, across left and right. But it’s never too late to re-establish a:
- healthy level of consumption. Buy for need rather than for vanity. 
- respect to the earth’s resources. 
- connection with what make us human, e.g. love and creativity. AND have initiatives like the OpenAI. (Hopefully, you can do this under $1b.)

We have to look at the 4IR within its context so that we can move on with technology and robot commercially in a sustainable manner. There is definitely a blurred line we should look at very carefully. Yet it is not the blurred line between human and robot. But the blurred line among human, technology and the context. Instead of a dividing line that separate these three, it’s a line that binds them together.

We can easily buy mass-produced and thus affordable eye drops in the drug stores. They all come with the right combination of oils, antibodies, and enzymes ISO9000ly manufactured. Yet they are never the same as your precious teardrops. And no more tears shall we shed because we neglect the context where the 4IR undresses itself. Sorry. I meant unfolds :-)

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