One day, when my boyfriend and I were first dating, I asked him if he’d ever consider dating a robot woman.
“She would look and act just like a real woman,” I explained, “She would even be programmed to disagree with you every once in a while, just to keep up the illusion.”
He pondered this for a moment before saying, “Sure, why not?”
“Because she’s NOT real,” I said with no small amount of exasperation.
“But if I couldn’t tell, then why would I care?”
“Because you would KNOW she wasn’t real!”
He shrugged his shoulders as I stared at him, perplexed.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea. How could you be satisfied by a relationship with a partner without free will? On some level, you’d have to know they didn’t really care about you.
You couldn’t have won them over with your charm. They can’t accept and love you for who you are, because they don’t have the capacity to “accept” anything. “They” are just a fancy machine that’s been wired to be nice to you.
Completely baffled, I posed this question to a group of people when I was visiting friends at a local pub. All of the women present were horrified by the notion. Some of the guys said no, but some thought it was a reasonable idea.
Since having this conversation, I’ve started noticing the strange fembot trend.
Take video games, for example. In Mass Effect 3, the space ship Normandy’s Artificial Intelligence unit, EDI, is put into a hot robot body that looks like a 1960’s pinup girl, complete with winged eyeliner and suggestive android lingerie. The player gets the option of starting a romance with this character.
There’s a similar character in the just-released Fallout 4. This time it’s Curie, a female Mr. Handy robot with a coquettish French accent who can be put into a synth body that is indistinguishable from a real woman. Again, the player has the option to romance her.
But this concept spreads beyond video games. This past year brought us Ex Machina, a film in which the protagonist falls madly in love with a stunningly beautiful, extremely realistic-looking android (brilliant film, by the way).
And lately, the Men’s Rights Activists have been threatening the female gender with redundancy. I don’t want to give those guys extra hits by providing a link here, but they’re essentially arguing that women need to shape up or else we’re going to be replaced by female androids once the technology improves.
I don’t think that argument is getting them anywhere, however.
Maybe it makes sense to them, but to women, it sounds a lot like “You need to act more subservient, banishing free thought in order to better cater to our whims, or else we’re going to build machines to do it for you.”
Most female responses I’ve heard sound something like, “Go get ’em, Tiger. If all you want is a facsimile of the female body that says and does whatever you want it to, then please do us a favor by removing yourself from the dating pool.”
Some women have also brought up the fact that in an age of realistic android girlfriends, there’s no reason to think there wouldn’t also be realistic android boyfriends.
Which is true, though pondering the idea made me realize that there aren’t any video games or movies where a woman has an android boyfriend.
Or are there? I’m not a huge sci-fi aficionado, so maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t think of a single male robot that has ever been anything but asexual.
I don’t know if that’s because science fiction tends to cater to the male audience, or if women simply don’t fantasize about perfect cyborg boyfriends. Because of, you know, the whole free will requirement.
I guess you could argue that vibrators represent robot boyfriends, but we know exactly what those are for. Women don’t pretend they represent actual relationships or fall in love with them (and definitely wouldn’t make movies about it if they did).
Though it does bring up an interesting idea: say we lived in a world with androids that were indistinguishable from real people, and you’re the kind of person who never gets a date. So one day you break down and buy one of these androids to be your boyfriend/girlfriend…
Do you try to cover it up? Do you pretend it’s a real person, because it would be embarrassing for people to find out your boyfriend or girlfriend was programmed to pretend to like you?
If you dated a real person who seemed out of your league, would everyone be secretly gossiping about how he or she is probably a robot? Would they try applying the Turing test to figure it out?
What about gay men, do they fantasize about robot boyfriends, or is this just a straight male fantasy?
It’s all very puzzling.