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Christmas is a time for tacky old pop songs, and they don't come much tackier than Dee D. Jackson's Automatic Lover. (I wonder what the "D" stands for.) Click on the picture, and you'll be crying out for John Cage:
"See me, feel me, hear me, love me, touch me"
Nice helmet; shame about the voice. Dee D's automatic lover is "cold and unfeeling" and looks a little bit too metallic. But the song is from 1978. Since then, sexbots have become sexpots, according to David Levy, whose book Love and Sex with Robots is reviewed in the Washington Post by Joel Achenbach:
Here's a prediction that'll make you squirm: In the future, people will fall in love with robots. Robots will not be cold, predictable machines, but actual lovers -- precocious, sexy, and remarkably humanlike in appearance. Humans will even marry robots in certain obliging jurisdictions. Now send the kids into the other room while we mention the obvious, bizarre implication: Someday, people will have sex with robots.
And not just cold, mechanical sex that barely incites a feeble meep-meep-meep from your robot lover: No, we're talking about real elbow-pads-and-helmets sex. Electrifying sex! (And afterward the robot will take a drag on a cigarette and say, "That really recharged my batteries.")
"Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans," Levy writes, "while the number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach us more than is in all of the world's published sex manuals combined."
Levy goes on to imagine a world of robot prostitutes, or "sexbots," which would offer people a chance to practice their technique before entering a human relationship. "With a robot prostitute," he writes, "the control of disease is implicit -- simply remove the active parts and put them in the disinfecting machine."
Most important, robots will have to learn to act like humans; one researcher, Levy reports, has designed robots that can exhibit 77 human behavior patterns.
Seventy-seven? I don't think I've got that many behaviour patterns, and I'm a human.
The key is that these technological advances will someday be complemented by cultural changes, and cavorting with robots just won't seem weird anymore. "It would not surprise me if a significant proportion of readers deride these ideas until my predictions have been proved correct," Levy writes, and then makes a cheap analogy to people who once were hostile to the idea that the Earth was round rather than flat.
Levy's book is entertaining in parts, such as the eye-opening (even climactic) section on the evolution of vibrators. "A steam-driven vibrator invented in the United States in 1869 was inconvenient for doctors to use because they repeatedly had to shovel coal into its boiler," he writes. (Who among us has not heard the command, "Keep shoveling"?)
Casey Jones - a-steamin' and a-rollin'.....
The problem is, a robot programmed to fall in love with a person is essentially a fancy inflatable doll. Imagine the awkward moments:
Robot: I love the clever way you comb those few, thin, feeble locks of hair all the way over the vast bald region of your head.
Human: You're just saying that.
Levy stipulates, near the end of the book, that an important part of sexuality is "the possibility of failure or denial," and thus sexbots will need to be able to mimic human "capriciousness."
A robot that sulks and says "no" when it means "yes"? It might be cheaper to get a human.
Different cultures would require different models, especially for the female sexbots. The "capriciousness" feature would be disabled in Muslim countries, and extra compliance widgets added.
Will the automatic lover go down well in France? I hope so - it will keep them quiet.