Each year, jimhark picks something off of my ridiculous Cthulhumas list and finds a way to give it to me, or a couple of gifts that combine for extra magic power. A couple of years ago, it was Samba De Amigo with the original maracas and mat, last year it was Rez (with the trance vibrator, no less!), and this year, it was the Johnny Depp real doll.
Or, rather, the closest thing going at this time, which means the first season of 21 Jump Street and a copy of Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, which may well be the creepiest book ever written.
The basic premise is as such: Because human beings have and love pets and grow attached to electronics, they will have and love and marry and have sex with robots.
It is an interesting argument, no doubt, but one that I consider fallacious and full of assumptions by connecting disparate ideas.
The first half of the book is all about love; the love humans have for pets, the attachment they can feel to electronics, and the transference of the love for pets to love for electronics when the electronics take on a familiar form (ie, Tamagotchi).
“The commodity thus becomes increasingly personalized to its owner through repeated use and interaction, and as it does so, it takes on, within the owner’s mind, an aura of uniqueness. Consciously the owner knows full well that his computer is more or less exactly the same as millions of other computers in the world, but subconsciously there develops in the mind of the owner the notion that this particular computer,hiscomputer, is unique, it is personal to him. And now that the commodity is no longer viewed as a commodity but as something unique, something personalized, it becomes part of its owner’s being, ‘symbolizing autobiographical meanings.’ The computer, if that is the commodity, becomes irreplaceable in the mind of its owner, even though clearly it could be replaced by another computer of the same make and model with the same amount of memory and the same operating system.” (p.29)
I completely disagree; it is not the computer that people become attached to (though I suppose in same cases, people DO, just like someone out there has to love Pauly Shore, though that person is not me) but the information on the computer; the things they’ve created. The photographs they’ve taken, the music they’ve made, the emo poetry they’ve written, the things that are unique to them. As long as the things unique to me are preserved, by which I mean things that I’ve created, and not media that is readily available elsewhere, you could swap out my computer every single night and I wouldn’t care a whit.
Levy then moves on to the love that humans have for pets, characterizing it thusly, “One important indicator demonstrated by the human love for animals is that humans are able to form bonds of love with nonhumans. Anyone who maintains that it is unnatural for us to love robots, on the basis that humans can only love other humans, therefore faces the instant refuation of their argument. Our love for pet animals also provides support for our understanding of why it is that many people form strong emotional attachments to robot pets…The fact that our love for our pets is understood by psychologists to be a form of attachment, the same phenomenon psychologists now accept as being the basis of romantic love, the same phenomenon that can have as its object computers or other artifacts, suggests that attachment permeates throughout the human-animal-artifact continuum.” (p.60-61)
Although attachment can happen with many things, pets included, and according to the unreferenced psychologists above, is the basis for romantic love, romantic love involves many other factors than simple attachment; only a small segment of the population genuinely loves animals in a romantic way, and zoophilia is not stated as being part of Levy’s assertions–that based on the attachment love we feel toward pets, we will eventually feel romantic love for robots. Given the full scope of Levy’s argument, the argument that human love for robots is unnatural is NOT refuted by the love humans feel for pets, as he is predicting love for robots in a completely different manner. According to hard science, everything we think and do is the result of chemicals interacting within the brain. Love may be nothing but biological chemistry, but within those chemical interactions lies the biological imperative to reproduce; though in the first world humans can more readily pick and choose when and if they do so, the urge is not stifled even if in the end, it’s tossed out in a condom. It is not biologically natural to see a robot as a reproductive partner.
When I don’t like to see myself as nothing more than a random combination of chemicals and chance (which is more often than I’d like to admit, maybe), when love feels like much more than preconditioned biology, Levy has an argument for why I’ll fall in love with robots as well:
“The empathetic robot, able to determine what makes a particular human feel good, will therefore have a head start in its attempts to seduce. The robot will do its best to create ‘feel-good’ situations, perhaps by playing one of its human’s favorite songs or by switching on the tv when its human’s favorite baseball team is playing, and then it will exhibit virtual feelings that mirror those of the human, whether they be feelings of enjoyment when hearing a particular song or cheering on a baseball team.” (p.143)
This is a perversion, a disgusting manipulation; at no point is Levy discussing self-aware robots, but things programmed to mimic humans, to manipulate them. What is love if there isn’t genuine reciprocity? Love is meaningful because it is difficult. A machine programmed to act as if it is reciprocating love, would be, in essence, a large-scale pacifier for those who are afraid to live, a ‘partner’ who will never disagree or will ‘reprogram itself to be less emotionally stable'(p. 145) if friction in a relationship is desirable. If, in your day-to-day life, you are a miserable cunt, a failed relationship with a human being can teach you how better to interact with the people around you; for fear of losing them via being an asshole. A robot? It will behave just like Animala in ‘The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra’–“Never disagree.” A robot, according to Levy, will be programmed to never fall out of love with you. So if human-robot relationships become as widespread as Levy is predicting, a whole new generation of people will grow to believe that their word is the final one on any subject, that they truly are special little snowflakes, and the population will become even crazier and shittier as a whole. As if humans needed another excuse to be shitty to one another.
Or look at this quote from earlier in the text:
“There is little point in programming a robot to tell plain or obviously ugly people that it finds them physically attractive, as the robot will lose credibility from any human partner who has the wit to detect the lie.”
Part of the joys of being in a relationship with someone is having an equal partnership, one where both partners have interests in things outside of the relationship, and outside of the scope of interest for their partner; it makes them interesting, it enriches you as a human being. Another part of the rich tapestry of human relationships is that different people find different aspects attractive; in the second half of the book, Levy talks constantly about sex–people paying for sex, sex toys ‘technologies’, I can’t even begin to enumerate the number of times he focuses in on how a user will be able to select penis size on their robot, and his entire book is pushing what seems to be his singular kink–and yet it seems he doesn’t comprehend that sexual attraction comes in a variety of forms, and some people considered ‘plain’ or ‘obviously ugly’ by conventional standards can be beautiful, sexual, and attractive in the eyes of others. We celebrate the differences, the uniqueness of our partners. Yet robots in Levy’s world, apparently, are programmed to detect only conventional beauty and attempt to convey it in an inoffensive manner; akin to telling a fat girl ‘you have such a pretty face (but…)’ or an ugly guy ‘You have such a great personality’. Considering that none of the robots in Levy’s world are self-aware, they do not have feelings, they cannot like or love or hate, why draw the line between one lie and another? Everything is a lie; the entire experience is a lie! A relationship with a robot would be nothing more than cold comfort–some programmer thousands of miles away rolling in money after coding a machine to tell you the lie that you’re not alone. Is our capacity for self-denial so grand that we can believe an unfeeling machine loves us?
The introduction includes one of the most self-important paragraphs I’ve ever read:
“Just as there are still those who dispute Darwinism, there will be those whose doubts and hostility toward what is written here will similarly emanate from their religious views. I do not expect the acceptance of love and sex with robots to become universal overnight. On the contrary, it would not surprise me if a significant proportion of readers deride these ideas until my predictions have been proved correct. It is inevitable that a measure of hostility will be expressed toward such concepts, just as there was hostility toward the ‘ridiculous’ notion that the earth is round rather than flat, toward the suggestion that the sun orbits our planet rather than vice versa, and toward the evolutionary studies that have shown man to be related to the apes.” (p.20-21)
I’m sorry, Levy, but voicing your similarity to the Japanese in regards to liking robots instead of fearing them like ‘westerners'(p.140) does not make you worldly, and wanting to pass your “I’d like to nail a robot and maybe divorce my wife and MARRY a robot” kink off as being normal hardly makes you Copernicus.