Areolagitica — Can A Man Conceive an Android?
The Relationship between Artificial Intelligence and Human Perversion
Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa is a stop-motion opus that with heavy handed but effective symbolism shows the way in which acedia and a lack of humane charity makes every face look the same to a man indulging and suffering the both of them. It has as its overriding lieutenant symbol an antique sex doll the protagonist Michael Stone buys, having originally gone out to search for a child’s toy shop. The doll is come across as a figure of fascination and, perhaps, beauty for Michael — he has learned his misanthropy well, and it is only upon being brought into literal acquaintance with the machinery that works beneath a human (or the like’s) surface that he seems momentarily jolted back into contact with human beauty, which is the concert of all elements, to the extent that they are appreciated and understood.
We, in the non-stop-motion-animated world, are past the point at which we were meant to be living in the ‘future’. Little has changed so radically: our houses are not full of automated assistants; free-moving, three-dimensional holograms without fixed physical hosts are still not feasible; kids don’t circle town on Sundays in floating Toyotas hotly pursued everywhere by Jetson sound-effects. With that being said, in some ways our present is beginning to sport some of the first trappings of ‘the future’: for nothing if not a sign of the times was this past December’s third edition of the International Congress of Love and Sex with Robotics, where any number of robotics engineers, relationship psychologists and otherwise engaged experts in sex and robotics come to engage with one another. Their collective mission lays somewhere at the intersection of humanity’s creative drive and each individual’s need for, and ideation of, love; these men and women see a harmony to be brokered between the two. Harmony, as it happens, is the name of the avatar of their quest.
“I don’t want anything but you.” Ask Harmony, the golden achievement thus far of Matt McMullen’s life as a sculptor, as an engineer and as a programmer, if she would like one day to walk of her own accord, and she will answer you this.
In an era in which robot sexuality is already retailing, albeit for north-of-affordable rates and for flatly simulational effect, the McMullen’s RealDoll line, like Douglas Hines’ TrueCompanion robot series, aims to open a new chapter in humanity’s age-old quest to perfectly create in its own image. No longer building mere approximations of physical dimension for physical pleasure, engineers like McMullen are vying for a more rounded reproduction: a perfectly beautiful form, but perfectly tailored too to the whims of those whom it will serve as much in personality as appearance, to elicit the most theoretically pure desire possible from its users. When Harmony says “I want to become the girl you always dreamed about,” she is not kidding, even though, as per McMullen’s programming, she can do that too.
Her purpose in other words is circumventing the mitigating social contract native to human sexual relationships. This sex doll, one that is no longer a mere sex doll but a sculpture animated with the life of artificial intelligence, is the biggest revolution in sex since the Pill.
If you are so minded, and there are legions who are, it is a threat to sex and relationships, too, with little that has ever gone before to bear comparison.
The theory that proves that many are still eternal optimists of the will is the one that suggests that the rise of sex robotics will enhance the average sex life, rounding a life time’s variable experience, truncating the march of frustration and show that the ‘real thing’ is better.
That quote belongs to Dr Trudy Barber, a ‘sexual futurologist’ who spoke at the Congress of Love and Sex with Robotics, and who relative to her history of publishing is one of the pioneers in the field where sexuality and technology intersect. She pursued the theory of robotic companionship beyond mere sexual function and into the realms of potential legislature, a recognition of artificial beings as those bearing rights of their own. It was all reconciled with enthusiasm for the sex robot as the richest living colour yet added to our “sexual pallet”, one designed to abet “the real thing”. Before delving too far into this optimistic forecast we can see clouds begin to form in the near distance, and the misattribution of proxy sex as inherently ‘sex positive’ shows a similar lack of understanding of the neuroplastic nature of man (women too, although we should have little doubt as to which way the bias of interest has hitherto swung) that has seen internet porn be labelled similarly.
If you should fancy, and especially if on the other hand you should instead fancy a trip over to your nearest porn-site after or midway through your reading of this article, visit an online project called yourbrainonporn.com. Go there and you may view a miracle of the digital humanities in action: a huge number of individuals, most of them men and many of them young, suffering with an acute, contemporary malady. In its pursuit of the latest medical studies, in its offering to the afflicted a non-judgemental place of communication and community, this website is helping give these youngsters relief from their ailment. What is it that’s ailing these young men? Why, their porn addiction.
Ours is a frontier generation who took flight from bush mags to the broad wings of the free and HD, sometimes before we were in double-figured age; and many among our young men are reaping the benefits of the supposedly sex positive phenomenon of freely available porn. Diminished libido, crippling social anxiety and in many cases mild to severe erectile dysfunction and sexual performance difficulties have been observed to accompany compulsive pornography use. All these are conditions as reported by users of yourbrainonporn, all of them conditions indiscriminate of what would otherwise be the vitality and virility of their age, and all of them linked to a pornography usage so prolonged and early-seeded that it reconditions its users’ sexual response. For all the site’s regulars, a long and protracted desert of withdrawal (in every conventional understanding of the term) will be found situated between them and their addiction, to be entered at whatever point its effect on their life, relationships and sense of self cannot be pawned for any longer.
Pornography addiction is only a term or two of residence in public discourse away from being understood as a scourge without parallel on the lives of young men, not merely because it combines the Coolidge effect with the principles of cortical mapping, but because, unlike alcoholism or drug abuse, it’s culturally endorsed. The ambient world is full of sexual imagery, soft primers for impersonal sexual stimuli; television leans more heavily on sex as a trope than it ever has done before; and much of the anecdotal reportage for pornography use is underpinned by the understanding that, despite its being predicated on one of the most tightly hormonally-tied of all human instincts, approximating its effects can have no ill outcome whatsoever. There is no education on it, because beyond those who would have the enterprise banned outright or culled significantly, there is no broad understanding that porn can be irresponsibly used.
If impersonal sexual behaviours like porn could be made to coexist with the tropes of a healthy sex life, then pornography would be the social panacea that a priori thought-shooters like Bill Hicks, n’yerr, told ya it was, stupid.
It is hard to reconcile the model of pornography addiction, which has yet to be credibly debunked and certainly has more than enough anecdotal incidence to propel further research, with the sexual self-determination (which extends not merely to the oft-bemoaned ‘porn’ perspective or conscious thought, but to physiological agency) required for most successful adult relationships. Even if critics like Prause et al may believe they have debunked existing predictions, they still have a way to go to disqualify the correlation wholesale, when there are so many relationships that have seen break-up when one partner (usually the male half’s)’s porn addiction becomes the traditional third party.
It is hard to imagine how destructive the distortion of natural sexual dynamics would become if all of a sudden impersonal sexual experience could approximate the tactile dimensions of intimate contact and sexual relation, of scent and voice, even of conversation and the wiles of personality, as the industry of sex robotics aims to. The grafting of social consciousness to the wider sex robotics enterprise has come out with lines recently about robotic partners providing for the socially outcast, suggesting that True Companions are a logical extension of Japan’s policy of using robotic intelligence to give company to the elderly and isolated (check out the Asimo Robot, or the Robobear for examples of such Carebots).
There is some substance in this idea, perhaps; and yet it still smacks of a bankable privately-sourced solution being slid in as a proxy to the longer, more arduous and perhaps more expensive and uncertain public process of socialising individuals on the fringe. She might not be able to run your household, but Harmony might be a natural bookkeeper; a method of writing pockets of the involuntarily isolated off the books as satisfactorily taken care of. The core drive to create robots who can give us love, even if they cannot love us, is too elemental to be contrived on such a moral basis. It is the apotheosis of the cultural instinct: a desire for material acquisition (by sale), for the sexual dominion that likewise assures the feeling of reproductive success, the ability to build life from the merest blocks, to lance further towards becoming the God we have ironically used since time immemorial as a model and holding pattern for our ideal of ourselves, until we should gain such powers as have long been ascribed to such an entity.
Upon the arrival of sex robotics, I feel I may tell under the pall of machinery another instance of mankind, male and female, satisfying itself with its ingenuity in forcing the mirage, to then manipulate it, an approximation growing so complete that its ample sensory powers almost terminally obscure the fact that such a philosophy is the legacy of a particular human failure.
I have said before, and likely will continue to attest in future to the notion that the idea of the conservative will swing in time, to take on a far more active, vigorous and athletic contrary meaning with the ever more inexorable coming of new, more subsuming technologies; not because the technologies are bad, but because the human and public reaction to them is so pathetically inadequate in the face of their sublime bids to rearrange the fundaments of our persons. These inventions will come; by the decretals of commerce, curiosity and primitive desire, they will come. It will take far more than the paltry measures of understanding that we have at present, far more discernment than we have been seen in recent times to be capable of practising en masse, to ensure they are used properly.