Are Women About to Be Replaced?

New Book Warns of Sexbots

The award-winning English author, Jeanette Winterson, has been fascinated by AI ever since reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. Since then, her writings (both fiction and non), have explored the relationships between humans and machines, as well as issues of sexual identity and gender fluidity.

In October last year, Winterson was launched into the lime-light again with her latest release, the much-discussed 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next. The book is a collection of essays exploring, if not exactly celebrating, Winterson’s fascination with the bizarre and bewildering aspects of machine culture, including transhumanism, techno-humanism, and techno-eroticism.

The book’s most significant contribution comes from Winterson’s research into the bourgeoning field of sexual robotics. She shows that, unlike past experiments in sexual automata, these objects are being marketed as alternatives. “Alternatives to sex workers. Alternatives to a relationship with a woman. Alternatives to women.”

To call these objects robots is misleading. These are not your typical robot, of the clunky metallic sort that Will Smith had to fight in the 2004 film I, Robot. On the contrary, by using top-end silicone and an internal heating system, these objects are warm, soft, and life-like.

In addition to being constantly customized for sex in a variety of positions (including positions impossible for real-world women to perform) these humanoids can talk to you, remember past conversations, and interact (their interactions can be programmed to different personality settings, including shy, jealous, chatty, etc.). Winterson’s research even found that “You can buy a doll with what the makers call a ‘frigid’ button—so that she will resist, and her owner can simulate rape.”

What interests Winterson is not just the doll’s features, but the types of uses they are advertised for. The marketing literature targets these robots not only for single males, but also for couples where the man wants more sex than his wife can provide.

The corporations who make these sexbots claim the moral high ground by contending that they are providing a valuable social service. Matt McMullen, a former producer of Halloween masks who has turned his attention to manufacturing sexbots, said, “There are people who are extremely lonely and I think this will be the solution for them.”

These robots, once merely experimental, are now part of an industry that has become big bucks. In Europe, China, and Japan, a rental market has emerged for men who want a one night stand with a robot.

In China, there are so many sexbots in circulation that many of these robots now have their own online avatar. The avatar can chat with the avatars of other dolls about her life with her human. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that we could be entering a future society where we have to devote considerable electricity, hardware, and processing power so that bots can talk to other bots, and in so doing satisfy our need to think of these robot-companions as human-like.

Winterson, for all her fascination with the bizarre, hesitates to embrace sex robots as a positive good. As a feminist, she focuses on how these developments will impact attitudes towards women in society.

“If the woman of choice is a programmable babe who never ages, never puts on weight, never has a period, never rips the face off him for being an arse, never asks for anything, or needs anything, and can never leave, are we really saying that will have no real-world impact on real-world women….

AI-enabled sexbots, love dolls, whatever you prefer to call them, are the crude beginnings of a change in human relationships, and in the nature of relating. We are going to get used to robots in our lives—but lovedolls are something else.”

One thing Winterson doesn't address is the obvious question: will there ever come a time when these female humanoids are so lifelike that people will begin demanding the right to get “married” to their almost-human companions? That question is intriguing since back in 2015 I reported on calls for human-robot marriages back in 2015. Using the same reasoning that justified same-sex marriage, many experts believe that robot-human marriages will achieve widespread acceptance by the end of the century. But with advances in technology happening at breakneck speed, that future may be closer than we think.

Further Reading

is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (Ancient Faith 2020). He has a Master's in history from King’s College, London, and is currently working on a Master’s in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is Blog & Media Managing Editor for the Fellowship of St. James and a frequent contributor to Salvo and Touchstone magazines. He operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.

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