I’m currently reading David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots, a book that gets mentioned frequently in recent discussions about sexbots. The book spends a lot of time examining how and why we fall in love, and though I don’t always agree with its reasoning, it’s always thought-provoking.
My post yesterday was prompted by a couple of quotes in quick succession. The first by Sherry Turkle about humans forming relationships with computers:
The interactivity of the computer may make him feel less alone, even as he spends more and more of his time programming alone.
Now that, once upon a time, was me. Sometimes it still is. But it is wrong to think of the computer as an interactive partner. For the programmer, the computer is a tool that facilitates an activity. To be aware of the computer is to be distracted from the task. A good computer is one that does not demand interactivity.
Most dedicated programmers will master input from the keyboard, so that a key pressed or a word typed will eliminate the need to move the mouse around the screen and search through menus and click through dialog boxes. (Perhaps touch screens will change this, however.)
It’s a little like driving a car. There may be people who love cars and hate driving, but those who love driving are not interested in a car that demands attention. They want a car that makes driving natural and effortless.
The programmer loves programming. The driver loves driving. The computer and the car, if truly effective, are not so much objects of love as extensions of the self.
The second quote, in much the same vein but by Norman Holland, is:
When programming, the computer addicts are working with an ideal partner who understands them fully. They feel toward their machines as toward a true friend. This friend will not withdraw if a mistake is made. This friend will try to be an ever-faithful helpmate. And this friend is male.
This sounds more like the plot to Asimov’s Bicentennial Man – the endlessly loyal and caring robot and the human who must grow up to be independent (if I recall correctly). Otherwise it’s just a projection of the researcher’s own anthropomorphic fantasy. True friendships are built up out of shared passions, not quiet subservience. The computer may be loved – affectionately – but it is not a friend.
And: Huh? My computers have never had a gender before. I suppose if the computer is an extension of the self, then it will assume the gender of its user, but this is a very convoluted argument.
What then of the sexbot? It may be loved, but it can never be a friend. Though it may pretend, it lacks passion. And it is very demanding of interactivity. It is designed to be the centre of attention, and not an extension of the self.
And while it may be a tool, the only thing the sexbot facilitates is masturbation.
The assumption I’m making here of course is that the sexbot is non-sentient and unfeeling. A sexbot that acts non-sentient and unfeeling is of little interest (“in-sert tab in-to slot and en-gage thrus-ters”). No, the sexbot needs to seem intelligent and display emotions, but should it convince?
What if the sexbot were so artful that it could make you believe that it was evolved beyond its deterministic logic? That it loves you, and only you, and shares your joys and passions? What if the sexbot understood the human mind so well that it could seduce you into loving it?
Is that really the goal of the sexbot? Or is its goal merely to act sufficiently human and interested that you can suspend disbelief and enjoy the fantasy of being loved? Much as escorts pretend to be interested in their clients, and the clients allow themselves to believe it for a few hours of pleasure.
What is better: an honest fantasy of love, or true love founded on deceit?