Sex Robot Anxiety: Alexa, Why Can't We Have Nice Things?
By Alexa Day
Am I obsessed with sex robots? I’m not sure obsessed is the right word. I prefer enthusiastic. I’m enthusiastic about sex robots.
And I really think we’re close to making sex robots a reality. I mean, we have most of the component parts out here right now.
For the first time, I’m a little worried about that.
Before I get to my concerns about the future, let’s have a quick look at where we are now.
Until recently, the reality of the sex robot was sufficient to dampen my enthusiasm (and not in a good way — heyo!). The real sex robots, predominantly women for male consumers, honestly didn’t look all that good. I don’t mean that they didn’t look hot. I mean that they didn’t look human. The average mannequin was a more attractive partner.
Sinthetics is changing the game. Elizabeth Shore wrote about them last month. They’re featured in a Vice Video, where the host Karley Sciortino commissions a sex doll named Gabriel with a sculpted body, blue eyes, and an erection that won’t quit until Karley wants it to. Gabriel was made by sex-positive people with a real eye for detail. You can see the veins in his arms. He has body hair. Thanks to Sinthetics, male sex dolls look pretty damned good.
(If you skipped the video last month, you missed out big time. Gabriel’s not shy about full frontal. Seriously.)
As hot as the modern male sex doll is, what separates him from the sex robot we’ve been talking about is a brain. We need him to understand what we’re saying, what we mean by what we’re saying, and what we might want later.
So where is our fabulous sex doll going to find a brain?
Ask Alexa. Not me. The other Alexa.
Amazon’s Echo Dot connects users to the Alexa Voice Service, a powerful artificial intelligence that recognizes and responds to a multitude of commands. Alexa knows your morning commute. She can read you the headlines. She’ll adjust the temperature in the living room. And the best part is that Alexa is learning as she goes. Amazon promises that the Echo Dot is adapting to its user’s “speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.” The more you ask of Alexa, the more she learns about you.
You don’t have to be terribly pervy to see the possibilities here (but it helps, I think). Alexa’s brain in Gabriel’s body seems like a fantastic idea, right? Aren’t you excited about the chance to educate your new friend?
Slow down, neighbors. Didn’t you read Frankenstein? That sounded like a fantastic idea at one point, too, but that snowball went downhill very, very quickly. We all have a lot to deal with right now, between smashing the patriarchy, protecting reproductive rights, maintaining our Netflix queues, and things of that nature. We won’t have time to chase a suddenly willful Gabriel all over creation, and we don’t know how quickly his hungry brain learns things. So we need to anticipate a couple of problems now.
We have an advantage over the Echo Dot in that we can move independently and it can’t. We could put the Dot into the underwear drawer if it starts getting a little ahead of itself. There’s a limit to how much it can do if it becomes disenchanted with its servile role in the household. Our robot friend isn’t going to be like that. I’m thinking about the Synths in the AMC show Humans. The Synths think independently enough to have secrets. It’s a big jump from following orders to keeping secrets, sure, but all a robot has to know in order to keep a secret is that knowing the truth will displease its owner. The sex robot’s job is to make you happy. How long do you think it would take our robot’s new brain to figure out that you would be better off not knowing the whole truth about something? It might start off innocently enough — one well executed surprise would teach our robot that withholding the truth sometimes pleases you. But once we’re not in complete control of disclosure, problems are going to arise.
The other problem is, well, people. Other people.
We aren’t out to take advantage of the sex robot, of course. To the extent a robot consents to sex, we’ll only be engaged in consensual activity. This is more about partner availability, the ability to have sex without having to make an effort to find an attractive partner whose presence we can tolerate. We are not awful people. We’re just about convenience and efficiency.
But awful people exist.
If you really want to be depressed by all of this, check out the brief documentary My Sex Robot. Along with all the rudimentary robots, you’ll find a host of men who will cheerfully tell you that the best part of having a sex robot is that she can’t say no. It’s kind of disturbing.
Is it possible to rape a sex robot? If it has a brain like the one we’re talking about, then I think the answer is yes. At the very least, the question invites discussion. Ideally, that discussion involves our new robot friend.
Damn. All I wanted was a robotic sex partner. Now that he sounds expensive and complicated, I might be forced to re-evaluate things.
And I will.
Are we moving too fast? Am I worrying about the wrong things? Let’s consider it in the comments.
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