November 6, 2015

What Do Robot Women Want?

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.

Follow us here at Lady Smut for more on sex, robots, awesome reads, and women–maybe but not necessarily in that order!

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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    Are these female robot stories a contemplation of female liberation? That’s what your blog post makes me wonder, and then the answer to your question would be: no. Certainly, I would never stay with someone who had access to my on/off button….

    Although…now that I say that, I know when I’ve had awful times in my relationship that my partner –even if he can’t turn me off–can hurt me horribly and that’s enough to make me feel so emotionally low, it’s like I’ve been turned off or something. Though, in this example, I have the power to do the same to him.

    You make me wonder if the moral of these stories is that it’s not the Caleb’s of this world we have to worry about (yay Caleb!). It’s clinging to the Caleb’s in the face of the OTHER guys out there who do want to own us, use us, and be robots for them, i.e. raise the babies, clean the house, manage the family relationships and meet all their emotional needs.

    How many women are out there who do this and expect nothing like quid pro quo in return?

    I also think robots are kind of like the hidden benign monster thing. They look like us, they sound like us, but underneath it all they’re really the Other.

    And maybe all of us who feel ‘other’ would like to feel accepted for being ‘other.’

    Great post G.G.!

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorG.G. Andrew

      I think they are stories are female oppression/liberation, at least in these examples. And you’re totally right that these are stories about Others, people who are different and are often not accepted–Alex + Ada in particular shows this very well, since it’s set within a community. And in that community, there’s a lot of confusion and fear about what the androids are…or will do.

      Reply to G.G. Andrew
  • Post authorjenheart

    So interesting! Also, “I’m 86% sure none of my neighbors have robots.” — LOL!

    Reply to jenheart
    • Post authorG.G. Andrew

      Make that 72%…some of them really keep to themselves! 🙂

      Reply to G.G. Andrew
      • Post authorBubba Grump (@GrantLeeStone)

        Actually, your neighbors have probably come very close to having sex with a “sentient robot”!

        Do you know how many profiles on “Ashley Madison” were actually just Female BOTS, built to interact with men, and keep them “hooked” and hoodwinked and subscribing to Ashley Madison? It was like 90%+ of the Female Interaction on Ashley Madison was actually being generated by bots and fictitious profiles!

        That is a Turing Test right there. And the answer to “Is there Sexual Artificial Intelligence?” is that it depends on how emotionally invested we are into being fooled!

        Reply to Bubba Grump (@GrantLeeStone)
        • Post authorMadeline Iva

          What? That’s *crazy*! OMG.

          Reply to Madeline Iva
        • Post authorG.G. Andrew

          Ha! Good point. Emotional investment is a strong motivator.

          Reply to G.G. Andrew
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