Monday, October 09, 2006

Robot Sex: For The Ugly And Socially Awkward 

"To the ugly and socially awkward: How sad that you are so repulsive to
people around you that no one wants to be your friend or lifetime
companion. We won't make it up to you by being your friend or your marriage
partner--we have our own freedom of association to exercise--but you can
console yourself in your miserable loneliness by consuming these material
goods that we, the beautiful and charming ones, will provide. And who
knows? Maybe you won't be such a loser in love once potential dates see how
rich you are." - Elizabeth Anderson

This is the letter that Anderson imagines being written to those chosen for material compensation on some "luck egalitarian" schemes. (It is, incidentally, also my favourite single paragraph in any of the contemporary equality literature in political theory). She argues that their discussions of who should be compensated and how in an egalitarian society imply the kind of patronising mentality depicted here.

But how far is it from how people really think? Just replace "how rich you are" with "how much you've learnt courtesy of Robosex", and you get a sense of why David Levy thinks sex robots will be both popular and useful.

First, he makes great claims for what these robots will be able to do:

Scientists have already developed artificial skin sufficiently sensitive to distinguish between a gentle caress and firm pressure; and the complementary capability - an artificial finger that can apply sensuous strokes. There is also research into silicone-based and similar types of materials used in the RealDoll and rival products, materials that provide for the user a measure of simulation of coupling with a human sex partner. Then add one or more of the specifically sexual electronic technologies that are already available, such as those employed for the benefit of women in the Thrillhammer, the Sybian, or the hugely popular vibrators that pleasure so many millions of customers; or the male equivalents - vibrating penis rings. The combination of these technologies and others will enable robots to deliver sexually awesome experiences.

Then, knocking back claims that people wouldn't want to use them for embarrassment, he says "I hope and believe that one of the great benefits of sexual robots will be their ability to teach lovemaking skills, so that men who do feel inadequate will be able to take unlimited lessons".

But its real target market soon becomes clear:

...What I am convinced of is that robot sex will become the only sexual outlet for a few sectors of the population: the misfits, the very shy, the sexually inadequate and uneducable...

So there you go: robot sex will redeem the marginalised, teaching them new skills in order to gain re-entry into mainstream society, and consoling those who just can't learn with a "sexually awesome experience", human-contact-free!

Anderson follows on her imagined compensation letters with a question: "Could a self-respecting citizen fail to be insulted by such messages?" The case of robot sex, however, brings to light a perhaps unexpected response - "We might be insulted, but that doesn't mean we won't keep the free gift..."

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