Sex Robot Anxiety: Alexa, Why Can't We Have Nice Things?


I still think we'll all eventually have our own robot gunslingers. We just need to be very careful with them.

I still think we’ll all eventually have our own robot gunslingers. We just need to be very careful with them.

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.

I promise.

Someday.

Are we moving too fast? Am I worrying about the wrong things? Let’s consider it in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We’ll get you all the nicest stuff.

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No Comments

  • Madeline Iva
    January 10, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Well, I for one blame sexism in science.

    If science catches up to women, and how we work biologically, and if science starts tackling the problem of *some* men and their f**king rape-y attitudes, then maybe we can work on multiple fronts to bring a sex positive robot with matching kinky tastes to your own into fruition.

    Meanwhile, I think we need to start working on Rachel Kramer Bussel about a Sex Robot anthology….

    FROM SSRU:
    How scientists are just barely starting to get a clue about women ‘down there’:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38170324

    How surveys are starting to spot ‘rape-y’ attitudes in men so we can begin to change them:
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-approach-to-sexual-assault-prevention/

    • Alexa Day
      January 11, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      If Rachel builds the antho, I will … contribute. 😉

      I totally agree with you that this is one area of research that would benefit tremendously from more women in STEM. If we can put a man on the moon, can’t we put ourselves over it?

  • carlyquinnauthor
    January 10, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Hm, I have the articles and video open on tabs but I want to comment from the gut first. (for better or worse) My first reaction is YES! a dildo that knows where that spot is and how long to stay there. I don’t have high hopes for interaction, it’s all a story in my head anyway, so ….. yeah, a glorified dildo, in my opinion. Now I’ll go watch and probably have to revise everything!

    • Alexa Day
      January 11, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Yes! I think modern society encourages us to live in false dilemmas. I think that we get “and” a lot more often than “or.” I mean, the story in my head is just as likely to include one very fortunate woman, the sex robot with artificial intelligence as powerful as its artificial body, and an observer to offer suggestions or pose questions. It’s “what if” gone wild. I’m not going to say no to that, ever.

  • Kel
    January 10, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Oh, the psychological fun of those “can’t” people – when people see someone else getting something they can’t achieve, and try to mimic it, doing so badly that they just look pathetic and sad to anyone who has seen the real thing.

    The concept of robot sex is interesting. I rather like humans, though, and when we manage to perfect robots to the point where they can fill in for actual humans, hackers will be great and terrible and not fade into the West. People who can twist other humans up and dance them around are already dangerous enough, and humans love them to their own destruction… we really don’t need to make it better, faster and easier for the wrong people to become sociopathic control freaks. I think robots for specific functions is a great idea – but expect that they will not mimic actual humans due to humans needing to maintain their own expectations of being unique or better or something.

    Or maybe we’ll just all end up as cyborgs.

    • Alexa Day
      January 11, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      I vote yes to cyborgs. 🙂

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