Technology vs. Flesh-and-Blood Lovers
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
There’s a scene in the new movie Her in which Samantha, the sultry-voiced computer operating system of the film’s title, talks up the benefits of being nonhuman.
“I’m not limited,” purrs Scarlett Johansson as the artificially intelligent heroine. “I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die.”
I’ll bet she never feels bloated, either. Or insists on switching over to Downton Abbey when the game’s gone into overtime. Or complains about the lingering lunchy onion stench on the breath of Theo, the lonely divorcé who buys Samantha and falls in love with her.
Both onscreen and off, modern society is flirting with the notion that technology can satisfy us in ways that flesh-and-blood lovers can’t.
Don’t believe me? Check out InvisibleGirlfriend.com, set to launch this Valentine’s Day. For a monthly fee, the company will conjure up “believable virtual and real-world proof” that you have a girlfriend. Yup. You can order up voice mails, text messages, social-media interaction, cards, and even flowers from a nonexistent female in order to, say, convince a roommate you’re not gay, put an end to a coworker’s come-ons, or get your nagging parents off your back.
Once upon a time, it was embarrassing even to admit that you met your girlfriend through an Internet dating site. But now that we’ve all been to weddings of couples who met online, it seems we no longer want technology to help us find our partners; we want technology to be our partners — to fulfill the needs for which we’ve always sought human lovers. To understand us and keep us company. To prove to all the world that we’re lovable. And of course (gulp), for sexual satisfaction.
“I think it’s inevitable that sex robots become, like, a thing,” says my friend Matt Allen. “For better or worse.”
Matt’s sort of an expert on the subject. He cowrote a YouTube series called Jon Davis Gets a Sex Robot, a naughty sitcom-y romp about a guy who convinces his wife to let him buy a walking, talking pleasure appliance — and the wacky marital hijinks that ensue.
I’ll spare you the links, but trust me when I say there are already mechanical and even virtual-reality devices on the market that simulate intercourse for those who … well, who’d rather not have to pay for dinner and drinks. Or be charming. Or bathe.
Is that a bad thing? Not inherently, I think. The world’s a better place when everyone’s needs are met, and who really gives a slutty cyborg how they do it?
“There’s nothing morally wrong with it per se,” agrees Matt, who’s given the issue more thought than a married father of two young girls probably should (his wife says he can’t have a sex robot, for what it’s worth). “But I do think it’s going to make male-female relationships in the far future extremely different — and not in the best way.”
There’s, um, a best way?
“It’s going to increase the percentage of men who give up on the pressure of a real relationship,” he says, pointing to Japan’s current concern over the new generation of so-called “herbivore” men who are rejecting the pressures of careers and relationships — even forgoing sex. “That’s possible now, being gatherers rather than hunters. Think about it: If men could have all the sex they want without having a relationship, they would take it. Just like kids would take all the candy they could get.”
Sci-fi fans have long predicted a robot uprising that would undo humankind. Could society’s new love affair with computerized companions be the start?
“They warned us the robo-apocalypse was coming,” Matt says. “They didn’t tell us it would come in the form of sex robots. Surprise!”
Starshine Roshell is the author of the new Broad Assumptions.