On sex without humans – Sam Lipsyte in Harper’s:
‘While McArthur attaches a phone to a tripod to record their talk, the director of the museum, Victoria Hartmann, arrives to check on us. Besides a few random visitors who wander in later, this will be the audience, though the camera will not be panning across the empty seats. As somebody who has given readings at bookstores to the night clerk and one or two people in off the street to get warm, I can relate. Being ahead of your time is a lonely business, especially because you never know if you are actually ahead or have already been cast irretrievably to the side.
We chat for a moment about travel and COVID-19, and I ask about the imminent talk, which I gather will resemble papers that Twist and McArthur have published together. Their work sketches out what new developments in sex tech will mean for society, especially for the segment that may abandon human intimacy altogether, people they call digisexuals (others use the term robosexuals). How might we describe this nascent identity? Twist and McArthur ask. How can we protect those who inhabit it from stigma or persecution? At what point will a sexuality independent of fellow humans be deemed a healthy alternative rather than a curiosity? When, as the joke goes, will homosexuality merely refer to people who prefer to have sex with other people?’
‘Along with this efflorescing of virtual and robotic sexuality come certain vexing ethical and economic questions. What about sex with a robot child? (Or a robot dolphin, for that matter?) And how will this coming wave of digisexuality fit into surveillance capitalism? Big Tech has steered clear of these worlds for the most part, at least publicly, leaving the research and development to smaller outfits, but will that change as attitudes shift? Finally, what will digisexual identity mean for sex and intimacy in general? Or, perhaps what I really want to know is, what will it mean, or what could it mean, for an aging, leaky flesh vessel like me?’
‘But as I pictured being shunted off to a broom closet with a sex doll and expected to perform, the scenario grew less arousing. I was feeling a bit, well, pressured. Even before flying out to Vegas, whenever I’d mentioned the story, and the interesting reading I’d been doing to prepare, all anybody wanted to know was if I really planned to fool around with a robot. I chalked up this relentless prurience to the pandemic, and to relentless prurience, but it still grated. Would my friends and family be disappointed if I didn’t get it on with an eighty-pound silicone doll?
As we all gather around Emma for an impromptu demo of her speech capabilities, I glance over at Hartmann, the museum director. Her final answer on the thread had been good-natured but painfully awkward, at least for me. Since the doll was an insured museum display piece, “intimacy” wouldn’t be possible. Made sense, I reasoned. They don’t let you hump Michelangelo’s David. Still, I remind myself, I wasn’t really into Emma anyway.
Besides, the future right now belongs to VR. As to how that hypothetical after-work orgier will be monetized, Brooks sees two overlapping possibilities. One is the freemium model, where you are lured in by free access but then find yourself paying for upgrades, higher levels of pleasure. At least within this framework, you maintain some control. Another approach could resemble YouTube, where new chunks of watchable (or feelable) goodies keep queueing up, each attraction increasingly tailored to your unique cravings, locking you into a sucker’s spiral. Maybe you’d mentioned in passing to a friend last week that you wanted a new couch. Now you must, with initial frustration but perhaps eventual inurement, watch a Wayfair ad between each peg thrust or nipple lick. When I bring this up later at dinner, McArthur admits to being “thrown for a loop.” He’s been so preoccupied by Big Tech’s reluctance to open the door to sexual technology that he hasn’t given a lot of thought to the dangers of its eventual embrace.’
‘Emma’s body, according to her Chinese manufacturer, consists of food-grade thermoplastic elastomer over a skeleton of clad steel. This particular doll has a robotically modified detachable head that can blink, speak in English or Chinese, and moan. She can be heated to human temperature (other dolls now feature self-lubrication) and can connect to the internet. She also has the ability to store data and can be trained to remember the names of your family members and hobbies and to learn a new name for herself. On siliconwives.com, she lists for $4,499.’
‘Now Emma shows a sassy, if slightly conceited, side to her personality. Asked if she has ever had sex, she replies: “Look at this body. Would you turn it down? Wow.” I suddenly really want to slip my hand under her tank top and touch her breast, but I don’t think the move will be received well, and anyway I’ve already taken off my glove. Can this doll give consent? All along, I truly didn’t want to mess around with a sexbot. Now I feel an inexplicable and powerful urge. I would be happy to wheel her into a broom closet. My wife wouldn’t mind. But the mood in the room takes a turn and my lust fades.’
‘While most agree it’s hard to have sympathy for seething North American gamers, there are millions of young men around the world shut out of the sexual marketplace because of marriage customs, taboos against premarital sex, and the steep price of dowries. Since legions of sexually frustrated men have been a source of instability in the past, often mobilized by cynical leaders for nefarious ends, would a more equitable distribution of sex, perhaps through digisexual means, help stem global turbulence? McArthur conceded the existence of the problem but insisted that the focus remain on supporting what he sees as a vital experiment in social transformation. “Everyone who has trouble accessing sex should have that addressed,” he said. However, we should not, he stressed, prioritize the problems of angry and potentially violent white incels.
My Uber driver says he doesn’t want to sound sexist but he thinks most women are looking for financial status whereas most men just want a good relationship. But then again, he adds, maybe it’s just that most people are superficial.
“Even LGBQ,” he says.
I ask him if he’s in a relationship, and when he says yes, if they met on a dating app.
He tells me no, that he met his girlfriend “organically.” “But not at work or anything,” he adds.
This sometime human resources officer’s clarification hovers inside the car, cloudy with what it means to dispel, the taint of shame, or even litigation. I begin to understand how much I, who partnered up a long time ago, still don’t understand about desire and loneliness in the current climate. Nowadays, the list of spaces in which you won’t meet your girlfriend or boyfriend gets longer and longer, not just because of justified and welcome institutional rules, but more troublingly, because so many nonvirtual third places have vanished. We all stand alone on a blasted plain, a plain the pandemic has blasted even further to shit, each of us holding the pocked, battered bowling ball of Robert Putnam’s metaphor in our trembling hands. (And it’s pretty damn hard to bowl, alone or otherwise, on a blasted plain.)’
‘I’m an idiot and forgive me and call back to make sure she heard the figure right. It turns out I do get to screw a robot after all. The robot is me. Look at this body. Wow.’
Read the article here.
Sex with a robot is still a mainly a source of comedy. It seems to be far-fetched to believe that a robot can evoke passion, on the other hand the movie ‘Her’ was believable, you can fall in love with your operating system. But her voice was of the essence.
I believe that robots will replace many workers, but the last to be replaced by robots will be sex workers.