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Tag: androids

Unconvincing Androids

Kids called them Hollow Heads. When the androids hit the market, the term “Bunnies” almost caught on instead, inspired by the ear-like antenna prongs, but the alliteration of “Hollow Heads” was more appealing to the first generation who interacted with the machines.

Artwork by NicoTag.

Artwork by NicoTag.

Besides, the increasingly powerful House Rabbit Society lobbied against the trend conflating their beloved pets with humanoid robots. After dogs died out in the 2030s, rabbits got a lot more popular, and their owners weren’t keen on having their endearments coopted.

One of the original engineers admitted on a virtustream that his design riffed off of an old film, back when screens were dominant. He said it was called Chappie. No one else seemed to remember this movie and soon the engineer disappeared from spokesmanship.

The other big innovation, besides the distinctive “ears” (which didn’t actually have any audio-processing capabilities), was to make the androids slightly insectoid. Just a little something in their structure. Babies found them unsettling, and this was judged to be good. Faces without heads — you could relate to them, but you’d never mistake them for human.

At first the market responded better to realistic androids. Boutiques liked them, as did hotels. But after a couple of high-profile impersonations splashed all over the virtustreams, along with that one abduction, the Bureau of Consumer Protection pushed Congress to regulate the new machines. They codified the Hollow Head design, and soon a thousand variations were being imported from China.

It wasn’t that the androids had been going rogue. Their owners programmed them for nefarious purposes. The nice thing about the Hollow Heads is that they really stood out, so you wouldn’t have them going around signing contracts without being detected.

Of course, the US Empire’s sphere of influence was only so big. Plenty of factories in Russia kept churning out androids with full craniums, some also featuring convincingly visible pores.

Robot Nymphs with Milky Silicon Skin

Blake Kathryn is “a multidisciplinary designer and content creator” — more femme androids and other delights can be viewed on the portfolio website, Instagram, or Tumblr.

pastel pink android by Blake Kathryn

shiny gold fembot by Blake Kathryn

a pastel vaporwave portrait of Microsoft's Clippy by Blake Kathryn

Yes, that is Microsoft’s infamous Clippy. A robot nymph if I ever saw one…

Pornbots Lacking Self & Gender

Warnings: 1) Could be NSFW if you work somewhere stodgy. 2) Discusses cissexism and sexual assault.

Image of a gynoid via Mona Eberhardt.

Image via Mona Eberhardt.

Wikipedia says of the gynoid, “A fembot is a humanoid robot that is gendered feminine. It is also known as a gynoid, though this term is more recent.” (Hold on, I’m going something with this.) The article elaborates:

“A gynoid is anything that resembles or pertains to the female human form. Though the term android refers to robotic humanoids regardless of apparent gender, the Greek prefix ‘andr-‘ refers to man in the masculine gendered sense. Because of this prefix, many read Android as referring to male-styled robots.” [Emphasis in original.]

I disagree with the Wikipedia editors’ conflation of “female” and “has tits and a vagina” but I must leave the depth of that argument for another day. Suffice it to say that a gynoid is an android — a robot designed to mimic Homo sapiens — that has tits and a vagina. Its overall appearance matches the shapes we code as “womanly” (or, disturbingly, “girlish”).

But a gynoid with no self-awareness, no sentience, cannot have a gender. Because gender is an inner experience than may be communicated to the world, not something that outside observers can impose on a body, however much they might try.

Screenshot of a gynoid by Sophrosyne Stenvaag.

Screenshot (?) by Sophrosyne Stenvaag.

Is it wrong to fetishize gynoids and treat them as fucktoys? If the gynoid has consciousness then yes, it’s just as immoral as any other sexual abuse. But if the robot is simply a well-engineered physical manifestation of porn? Can you rape a souped-up Fleshlight?

I think not. There’s no self in that container to traumatize. So it wouldn’t be wrong because of any harm done to the device — a gynoid with no mind or soul is a gadget like your phone or your Roomba — but could be wrong because of the effect on humans who also have bodies coded as feminine.

If someone gets into the habit of treating a gynoid as a sexual object, will they pattern-match and treat people they perceive as women with the same violence and disrespect? It is by no means conclusive that regular pornography has the common-sense effect of making viewers more sexually violent. There’s no consensus on whether video games encourage IRL aggression either.

I’m sure we’ll find out eventually. For better or for worse.


(I told my boyfriend that I was going to write a thinkpiece about gynoids instead of a political thinkpiece and he said, “The lady robots?!”)

Brief Thoughts on Androids, Cyborgs, & Humanity

Horror drawing of androids by Apo Xen.

Artwork by Apo Xen.

“Most remarkable is David 8’s increased emotional capacity, which allows him to seamlessly adapt to any human encounter. Weyland has also fine-tuned David 8’s expression mapping sensors, engendering a strong sense of trust in 96% of users.” — Weyland Industries (the company from Prometheus)

Horror drawing of androids by Apo Xen.

Artwork by Apo Xen.

Androids are a parody of humanity. We design them in our image. We give them — and their software equivalents — our names. Sarah is the theoretical lifeguard bot, and Charles is the helpful museum attendant. Ava is the manic pixie dream bot turned indifferent assassin. David is the sociopathic HAL 9000 redux. Their personalities are stereotypes constructed around particular job roles.

We build and (fantasize about building) human-looking machines that are programmed to ape us, often replicating our weaknesses as well as our strengths. But of course androids cannot feel what we feel. They can’t even see what we see, because computers don’t identify images in the same way the human brain does. Layers of mathematical analysis learn to recognize pixel patterns, but they can be fooled by tweaks that seem silly to human eyes.

Cyborgs, on the other hand, are not so much an imitation of humanity as a gritty extension of it. (In case you’re not familiar with the distinction, an android is fully robotic, whereas a cyborg is a flesh human augmented by high technology.) We already live in a world of cyborgs — prosthetics and IUDsheart monitors that can be hacked — and the more speculative DIY experiments aim to add a sixth sense to our arsenal.

I feel much more comfortable with cyborgs than I do with androids. Why is that? Is it because contemporary androids are still mired in the uncanny valley? When there isn’t as much of a disconnect between robotics, machine learning, and genuine human behavior, maybe I won’t be able to tell the difference.

Or maybe androids will become the norm, because why give birth via vaginal canal when you can avoid it? Cyborgs will stand out as antiquated oddities, still based on blood and bones instead of upgrading to silicon and steel. Parents will generate their infant’s mind based on a random data seed, then tweak the variables until the result is acceptable.

Anti-Nausea Luxury Engineering

Photo by JD Hancock.

Photo by JD Hancock.

A human is a complex and finicky device. You can’t just buy one and let it be. They need daily care and maintenance. A responsible owner also has to keep an eye out for patches — security updates and plugins for boosted functionality are available frequently. It’s important to stay current! Listen, I’m not trying to discourage you. Just consider your level of commitment before making a purchase. These are very special gadgets.

You’re visiting us for the first time today, right? We encourage first-time companion buyers to start with a basic model. Don’t worry, you can always trade it in for credit when you’re ready to upgrade to one of the high-spec humans! Get your sea legs, so to speak. No, really, we’ve engineered nausea out of the latest genomic algorithm. Many of our clients take their humans sailing. We’re even considering a communal cruise! Let me know if you’re acquainted with any good yacht brokers.

My apologies, sir, I’m getting off-topic. Tell me what features you’re looking for.

Ahh, that’s a common request. Yes, we have a variety of decorative options. But we can’t replicate your dead wife! Ha! Strictly joking, of course. I’ve been skimming a history module about proto-human marriage rituals. Norms were very much changing before we came along and upended their world. Poor little guys.

Do you want to tour the showroom? We’ve got some real beauties in the shop right now! Don’t take what I said about starting with a basic model too seriously — as long as you’re willing to put in the time… It’s very rewarding! I can show you a few testimonials from our other clients. They’re very pleased with their humans.

Step Into My Office

“Alright. Get on with answering.”

“Give me a minute to think. I didn’t expect to be asked about this at a job interview.” Gwen rubbed her ankle against the leg of her chair. The metal felt cold through her thin stockings.

Michael sat behind the big desk, arms crossed. His shirtsleeves were crumpled and pushed up to his elbows. “It’s a very simple question, and you only need ‘a minute to think’ because you want to conceal information from me.”

“I was prepared to discuss my organizational skills, not bare my soul.” She frowned at him quizzically. “This is a secretary job, right? To be honest, I don’t want to work someplace where I get the third degree for no reason.”

After reviewing her resume and asking a few questions about her past positions, Michael had demanded, “What are your secrets?” At first she thought he was joking, but he hadn’t been satisfied with a flippant answer. Michael had pressed her: “No, your personal secrets.” So now Gwen was gambling. She needed the work — well, she needed the salary — but she was reluctant to make up any deep, dark disclosures. Telling the truth certainly wasn’t possible! Hopefully being abrasively straightforward would appease him.

Michael sighed, pushing his chair back from his desk, and stood up. “Here’s how this works. Before I can hire someone, I need to know that I have leverage. I need to know that I can break you if I need to.” He looked down at her, brown eyes fixed on her face.

Gwen stood to match him. “Okay. I don’t think I’m the right candidate for your situation, and I’m going to leave now.”

Contempt came into his gaze. “You think being refurbished makes you a real woman? You think I can’t tell?”

Gwen’s breath seized up, and she felt her fight-or-flight program kick in. She started backing toward the door, hands help up instinctively in the “calm down” stance.

“Bitch, I know you were manufactured. I’m not a moron.” He took a step toward her, and snorted derisively when Gwen flinched. “I thought so. They spruce up your reactions but I can always tell a synthetic.”

“I’m sorry,” Gwen said, fumbling for the doorknob. She pulled it open and stepped into the hall, still watching him. Then she ran.

After Androids; Before AI

Trigger warning for sexual aggression. This ain’t a family newsletter! No need to worry, though — it’s not pornographic either.

“Don’t laugh at me,” he yells to her. The sound bounces off her convex cheek. Blue-white silicon curve, so close to human. Her mechanical nature is both concealed and revealed. If the shape of her body weren’t defined by consumer testing, it would be a poem.

The robot rotates her head on her stacked neck, gazing at him. Her name is Eliza. The vertebrae are silent as she twists. “I was not,” she says in her careful voice, meaning that she wasn’t laughing at him. It’s not a response to his anger — her voice is always cautious and modulated.

“What, you don’t have humor programmed into you?”

“No,” she tells him. Her feet push against the velvet floor, toes digging into the fibers. Mimicking human stress gestures will trigger him to be more sympathetic. She was endowed with this coping mechanism because it helps preserve the tech. Courtesan bots are frequently harmed, and that’s expensive because of their robust warranties.

He shakes his head. “I thought they’d want that. For you to be funny.”

“They do,” she says, smiling at him. “I’m just low-tech.”

He leaves his drink on the piano — the instrument is retained as an affected anachronism — and walks toward her. He grabs Eliza by the hips and jerks her pelvis against his own.

The robot is not thinking about her own agency. I have to scoff at you: she doesn’t think. She’s a machine. In fact, we only use a pronoun because we lack the capacity to conceive of her correctly — as a series of binary commands housed in metal. The man could decapitate her, sawing through silicon skin and metal bones and then letting her head drop into a bucket. It would not be an injustice, except for the financial burden on the corporation.

Therapists use up a lot of these models.

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