Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Romancing the Bot, Final Chapter


The makers of Roxxxy, the sex robot from Part 1, called it a companion. That term is so broad (no pun), it defies description: Wilson from Cast Away, Data’s cat, The Simpsons’ cat lady.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) wrote, “… loneliness … is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” Interact with a virtual being and you won’t be alone—unless you want to be.

We know life is hard and then you die. People have always sought to escape reality’s pain. Why not virtual if it makes you feel better? It offers unlimited choices—many out of this world.

We grow up toys: reality in virtual form. We play with dolls and action figures: things without will, unable to resist our wishes. How many adults seek this lost control from their childhood?

To separate real from virtual, we compartmentalize. Some don’t manage this disconnect well. At best, they become addicted to any of virtual’s pleasures. At worst, they are bullied into suicide.

These confused people seem to be the market for David Levy’s proposal to marry robots. Knowing history, you know some men married prostitutes and many women were treated as chattel.

Why not marry a robot prostitute? For one, sex robots aren’t alive and aren’t being paid for their favors. We need to be reminded, again and again, that robots are things, not people.

Robot is a relatively recent term, not yet 100 years old. It comes from the Czech word, robota, meaning compulsory labor or laborer. Despite this origin, actual robots are gadgets, not slaves.

When robots perform functions for humans, it’s not slavery. We anthropomorphize them, but not TVs, cars or toasters. Robots are not human. Our feelings don’t entitle them to human rights.

Adding maid skills to a sex robot does not make a wife. Today’s marriage does not permit unequal partners. Because wives are no longer chattel does not raise a robot to the status of a woman.

In the long term, marriage is about companionship. And anyone can have this with any being or thing they choose. What they can’t have is legal marriage. We need laws, e.g., age of consent.

But this problem is bigger than legalities. Laws vary and are often the basis for inhumanity. Whenever people are regarded as non-human, history records horrors, like slavery and genocide.

We must draw the line between human and non-human. We can’t continue devaluing some people as non-human, while fatuous twits seek human rights for robots. Or dolls. Or cats.

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