With emotional AI, we won't need you either, boys. But will it solve our problems, or make us more miserable?
He's everything you always specified in a man. CC0 public domain on Pxhere
The catalog entry depressed me: Sex dolls programmed to repeat back what he says. What sort of man might buy such a thing? He must be, I imagined, a romantic loser, unable to get a woman, jacking off into this objectified vague facsimile, all wide open, dead-staring eyes, outfitted with a perpetually-ready open mouth and a few other designed-to-feel-real holes.
What saddened me wasn't that the man might tell the doll, 'Fuck me harder! Fuck me faster! Oh God, Billy, you're the best!'
I imagined him saying, "I love you," just to hear the words.
The Stepford Spouses
A friend and fellow writer has written about 'digisexuality' and pondered the benefits of sex toys, holograms, and far more digitally sophisticated sexbots than the products I saw in the old catalog. Dr. Mehmet Yildiz (you can follow him here on Vocal) ponders the healthful, helpful applications of digisexuality in his thoughtful piece on Medium: Can Digisexuality Be Part Of The Rainbow Of Human Sexual And Emotional Experience?
Dr. Yildiz asks for a rational, compassionate approach to evaluating the ethics of digisextech and enumerates the many ways it might benefit humanity.
Benefits? Well...uh, okay, maybe?
I've lived long enough to witness technology, with the help of a global pandemic, slowly dissolve human ties, allowing us to move to where we can soon say the hell with it, I'm tired of trying to please wo/men, I'm going to buy me a robo-lover!
Perhaps The Stepford Wives is here: We can program a robot to be the wo/man we always wanted, rather than having to deal with the messy emotions and needs of independent thought in another.
A reasonable facsimile of how they appeared in the 1975 movie about custom-designed robot wives catering to feminism-resistant husbands in a small New England town. Public domain photo from Picryl
Chads rule, and incels drool
For some, a robot may encapsulate their Perfect Partner: Sexually available at all times, always says yes and never argues with or challenges him. Research indicates not only are men more willing to shag a robot, over forty percent believe they could fall in love with one.
It's classic 'man box' thinking for those who prefer never to address or even acknowledge their inner emotional life. Researchers on the 'man box' effect, the 'norms' and stereotypes of emotion-starved masculinity, connect it to harmful effects on men and their social relationships. Scoring high on the 'man box' scale correlates to higher levels of violence, sexual harassment, and bullying, not to mention, for the men themselves, elevated levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental illnesses.
Rather than challenging themselves to learn social skills, some believe they'd be happier with something that looks like a woman, but isn't a woman, especially in the way its only concern is your happiness.
Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an AI virtual assistant in the 2013 not-too-distant-future movie Her.
For those who can't completely eschew 'meatspace' lovers, this uber-sexualization/objectification may encourage misogyny and violence against human women even more than the rise of violent porn. Porn has been correlated to increased misogyny and sexual violence including out-of-the-blue violent practices during otherwise consensual sex including choking, slapping and hitting, which comes as quite a surprise to female Tinder 'hookups' who weren't expecting it.
Dr. Yildiz theorizes sexbots could solve the problem of 'incels' and other socially-challenged young men. It's one thing to want to try a sex robot - and a few women do too - and quite another to want to replace an actual human being.
Incels' rage stems from their entitlement to beautiful women only the 'chads' seem to get; it's not the human being that matters, it's the 'arm candy'. See what I can get that you can't, loser? I fuck her every which way I want and she never says no, or at least so you imagine, Beta Boy!
When anyone can buy a hot, compliant sex robot, where's the status?
Christopher Walken explains how to create the perfect woman in the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives.
Would these men truly be as happy with fembots as they think? Human beings aren't designed to connect this way with technology. Our brains have evolved out of caves to adapt to cultural and environmental conditions through language and cooperation. It's how we've survived to become THE most dominant species on Earth. What do fembots, then, mean for men's mental and emotional health? Romantic problems are rooted in underlying emotional and psychological problems that are best addressed with therapy or pushing one's self to grow and reach greater emotional capability, rather than less. The underlaid and underloved Supreme Gentleman settles into manchildhood with a fake girl, knowing in his heart of hearts she doesn't love him because she can't.
Maybe they have something in common.
Neil Strauss's pickup artist's Bible on how to con women into bed, The Game, notes how PUA culture teaches men how to mindlessly fuck women, until the day they fall in love or want to settle down. One PUA trainee he met learned the tactics so he could get married, and he did. Except he'd only learned sexual skills, not relationships skills, and his ended in divorce.
Some men think sex on demand with all the beautiful women they want is the answer to all their problems.
But Strauss detailed his own mentor's descent into a nervous breakdown and serious mental illness after he'd neglected his emotional life for too long.
Incelibacy and aging pickup artists are still male entitlement thwarted. Real women will remain the ultimate prizes, still denying incels the status of their approval and acceptance. What's worse, everyone will know his ugly truth no matter how convincingly human his 'girlfriend' is.
They'll know 'her' by the way she acts toward him. As women continue to grow and evolve, others will know he can't get a real woman by the deferential way she treats him.
What about Data for women?
Lt. Tasha Yar : What I want now is gentleness. And joy... and love. From you, Data; you are fully functional, aren't you?
For the precursors of our future man/fembots, today only 5%-10% of RealDoll(tm) customers are women.
Women don't need robots, or prostitutes, or RealDolls. Women can get laid any time, any place. We control the p--sy, the root of historical misogyny and male obsession with domination.
Make my manbot a little more tan and with some eye color, please! CC0 2.0 photo by Rhea C on Flickr
But what if male robots were designed for what women want? What if their AI met the emotional needs today's men too often can't or won't?
Israeli researchers found that people can respond emotionally to robots. Subjects in one study were instructed to tell a personal event to a small desk robot. Half received emotional responses, the others didn't. The participants with the responsive robot developed a desire to have the robot companion with them in a stressful situation, like meeting potential romantic partners. They also smiled at it more, exhibited positive body language and made 'eye contact'.
A truly emotional AI could render men fully obsolete, which they already arguably are, sexually.
What if a manbot could be programmed not just as the perfect sexual partner, operating on your schedule, always hard when needed, never pushing you to try anything you don't want to, but primarily, provide the emotional support many men can't? What if a manbot hugged you and kissed your cheek without hoping it would lead to sex, who listened to your problems and knew when to suggest solutions, and when to be empathetic because he understands some problems have no answers, like how to get along with your difficult family?
How about one who never hits you?
Needs a manbot. Photo by Alex Green from Pexels
What if he was programmed to be deeply in love with you and never get bored and chase other women?
Would that make women any happier than men with fembots?
Love, not actually
Women might easily fall in love with an emotionally intimate manbot. But is it real, fulfilling love? Manbot or fembot, how long can you convince yourself this 'love' is 'just as good as a human' until the truth comes out in the form of a mental breakdown? Perhaps humans might find, in the darkest part of the night, that only human love, love earned, and maintained, truly means anything.
Fake lovers don’t bode well for our already divided society. We’re falling apart socially, self-tribalized by politics, race, gender, preference/identity, even what color a silly dress is. Separating is NOT what nature intended. We're designed to be social creatures, and between the rise of the Internet and the pandemic, we’re all devolving, but men may be losing ground even faster.
Escape from the 'woman box' has been a 150-year journey at warpspeed. Feminism is the change agent for the default system, patriarchy. Since the inception of First Wave feminism, women have driven change while men play catchup.
Partnership is falling out of favor, primarily because women don't like what's available anymore. Women are turning to each other, either for friendship and support they can't find with a man, or for love and sex. Ad hoc lesbianism.
Mental illness has skyrocketed in the pandemic, in tandem with alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and most of all, epidemic levels of loneliness. All these dysfunctions were on the rise before it was mass-accelerated by a virus, once we were prohibited from going to work if our jobs could be done from home. Connecting with our co-workers on Zoom doesn't provide the same camaraderie joshing together in the conference room did. We can't see our families at the holidays, but if we can, we argue over masks and vaccination status. We have to remain six feet from each other at certain public 'levels'. We can't even hug our mother because it might kill her.
The human disconnection technology wrought since the mid-'90s has made us all harder, less empathetic, and brought out an inner psychopath many didn't know they possessed. Faceless trolls and stalkers harass, dox, and threaten through technology while others ruin lives and reputations with fanatical 'cancel culture'.
What does this mean for humans?
Technology, so far, has a piss-poor record on improving human relationships.
The connection between social media and mental illness is well-documented, especially for super-digital later Millennials and Gen Z, and Netflix's much-discussed documentary The Social Dilemma which explored how companies like Facebook devised ever more-addictive algorithms to keep people scrolling, watching and engaging. But, not necessarily in a positive, socially improving manner. The revelations in The Facebook Papers describe how unhealthy, mentally debilitating content was pushed at anorexic teens, radicalized others, disseminated misinformation and conspiracy theories about elections, vaccines and the pandemic, enabled hate speech and consistently made puny efforts to stop verbal and psychological abuse on its platform.
It's so much easier to be a dick when you're not sitting in front of someone in physical space watching their face when you call them a dumb ignorant c--t.
Technology often makes us stupider, and unquestionably a lot meaner. Humans don't like to move outside their comfort zones, insulated within their safe space social bubbles. Why challenge yourself to see things from other perspectives when everyone you know believes you're all 100% correct about some political candidate or cause, so why bother questioning why others might legitimately feel differently? We know the answer already, right? It's because they're STUPID! And EVIL!
This is why I fear the xbots. They won't make us better human beings, they'll trap us all into perpetual childhood, wanting others to serve us and the hell with what they want. Learning social skills to find yourself a genuine woman who wants to have sex with you, or a man who truly loves you, gives one valuable skills they can use elsewhere, working with others, learning to compromise, and even seeing that their way isn't always the best way.
Feminist growth may be equally stunted by manbots programmed never to hit. How does a woman ever learn to stand up for herself, get out early, take charge of her life, and utilize that much-vaunted female agency to decide who she'll allow into her life, and to eject early anyone who doesn't treat her right?
Learning to stand up for yourself in romantic relationships gives you the resilience and strength to stand up for yourself elsewhere. Buying a manbot who never challenges you locks a woman into permanent little-girlhood, with a bot who might 'take care of' her, but she's still weak, passive, and earning below-average pay because she's too afraid to state why she's worth more, and press her boss about it.
Since the Pill-led Sexual Revolution of the last sixty years, women have finally experienced a desperately-needed boost to exploring sexual desires and personalities they'd been forced to repress, ignore, and feel ashamed about for thousands of years. Fifty years ago, a woman exploring multiple partners was slut-shamed; even so today, although now more women are willing to push back and read books called The Ethical Slut exploring and justifying polyamory in relationships. And hey, 'slut' can be lobbed pejoratively at men now, too. When men brag about being 'sluts' a woman can respond, "Ewww, AIDS bait! Nah, I want someone without a diseased dick."
Women have been trapped in a sexually restrictive 'woman box', while men remain stuck in an emotionally restrictive 'man box'. A successful 'masculinism' movement is much-needed, but too many efforts for 'men's rights' inevitably derail into whiny misogyny and privilege protection.
A sincere 'masculinism' movement would explore how being a man, and masculine, can include emotional and self-awareness, contributing to a more enriched human being. The outdated 'man box' is an emotional chastity belt, inoculating men from personal and spiritual freedom. Don't touch this!
I agree with Dr. Yildiz that 'partnerbots' (a word I just coined to embrace robots for sex and emotional intimacy) might have value but I'm not sure where it is, given our record so far integrating our lives with so-called 'social' technology.
Ultimately, the only thing that will help humans relieve our desperate loneliness and need for love is to venture out of our respective 'wo/man boxes' and learn to accept each other with all our emotional imperfections. We are human, and the desire to go 'full automaton' is a fantasy frankly, directly out of the most autistic male data engineer's emotionally constipated brain.
Like Elon Musk's. 'Neuralink' is more than a little disturbing coming from a guy who's plainly struggled with mental health issues in the last few years.
No matter who you are late at night, lying next to your bespoke Significant Other, you will know, in your heart of hearts--s/he doesn't love you. Not really. S/he can't. S/he can fake it completely convincingly but s/he exists because you custom-ordered them.
You can't get a partner on your own merits.
You'd rather live with a machine than learn how to stand up for yourself.
You have few social skills, so you have few friends.
Turn to your perfect partner now and whisper, "I love you."
This originally appeared on Vocal.media in February 2022. Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a post!