by G.G. Andrew
I just finished the final volume of the comic Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, which is a futuristic love story between a human man and a female android. Since I started reading this fantastic comic, I’ve thought a lot about romances between robots and humans–specifically when comparing Alex + Ada to the movie Ex Machina which came out last year and also features a female robot/male human pairing.
Drones aside, we’re not in a world of widespread advanced artificial intelligence. At least, I’m 86% sure none of my neighbors have robots. They’re certainly not having sex with any sentient ones, even if maybe they really want to. But in the world of Alex + Ada and Ex Machina, androids can talk and walk among us, wear cardigans, and kiss. They can be aware–and in each of these stories, female robots have a man interested in them, who sees beyond their machinery and wants them, body and mind.
But the question is, Do the robot women want them?
Tales of artificial intelligence are fascinating because they make us wonder what it means to be a person, not to mention the gifts and dangers of man creating life.
With stories of female robots, there’s an additional layer of meaning. I don’t have to remind anyone here that, historically, women have often been treated like robots to men: considered property, denied rights, asked to serve without question. These stories remind us of that reality along with the taboo-but-tantalizing idea of robot/human pairing.
Alex + Ada and Ex Machina present different worlds. In Alex + Ada, artificial intelligence is widespread, along with laws to govern its use, while in Ex Machina, this technology is still in its adolescence, with one man who has started to create androids in his isolated lab. But in both, there’s a female robot who becomes sentient while still trapped under oppression–caged or carted in a box, and in one case containing an on/off switch to be controlled by her owner.
They each present a small example of what it would mean to suddenly move from being confined to free as a woman–and what that would mean for how you felt about human relationships, love, and sex.
Both Ada and Ava in the film (played by Alicia Vikander) seem to fall for similar male types: kind, sensitive guys who treat them with respect. These guys, Alex in the comic and Caleb in Ex Machina (Domhnall Gleeson), are shown in stark contrast to other hypermasculine bro-dudes in their world. Alex’s neighbor tries to discuss having sex with androids with him like he’s comparing notes on the big football game. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Ava’s creator, is the polar opposite of the sweet programmer Caleb she befriends–brilliant but an overly aggressive, bearded and often shirtless drunk–almost more ape than man at times.
So maybe that’s the first thing robot women want: caring guys who will respect them. Who won’t just see them as things. And both guys do find themselves surprised to develop feelings for the female androids and eventually a desire to emancipate them…and more.
But is it enough?
It’s curious to think, as non-robot women, what choice we’d make in these situations. If you were treated as a thing, as property, and you suddenly gained a taste of freedom, would you want to be in a human man’s arms? Would you run from his touch or crave it? Would you enter into a relationship with someone who used to own you, or used to observe you on a monitor? And what would that relationship even look like?
As a gender flip, in the comic Alex’s grandmother has her own android, Daniel, whom she beds enthusiastically. A hilarious and sexual older woman, she’s a great character…although the question is raised as to whether Daniel would stay if he was allowed to be sentient.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to share spoilers to either of these stories. Let’s just say Ada and Ava take different paths, at varying times, answering the questions their characters raise. When they’re both given freedom, they make their own choices. What they do makes us think not only what it means to be a person, but a woman.
Because the choice between love and freedom, passion and oppression, independence and closeness? That’s a question females have struggled with for centuries, robot women or not.
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