I bailed on y’all yesterday, so here’s an irregular #aesthetic picdump. Shouts to Glitchet for managing to do this every issue.
Tag: robots (page 1 of 2)
Warnings: 1) Could be NSFW if you work somewhere stodgy. 2) Discusses cissexism and sexual assault.
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.
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?!”)
“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)
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 IUDs, heart 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.
“Beyond using its three manipulator arms to move about, these unmanned weapons possess the dexterity to enter homes and office buildings, operate computer keyboards and open drawers to collect intelligence, and operate a handgun. Small enough to function unhindered in any space designed for human use.”
Something is profoundly creepy about the human-shaped limbs mounted on a robotic ball. It’s like an evil BB-8 designed by HR Giger with input from Hans Bellmer.
In real life, we make humanoid robots because they can navigate “any space designed for human use” — AKA the built environment as it currently exists. We can integrate them into manufacturing, warehouse stocking, and other types of repetitive manual labor. This will potentially have a huge economic impact within a couple of decades, and it’s much easier to get there if we don’t need to rebuild every facility that will be affected. We can slide into the automated future factory by factory instead of jumping in everywhere all at once.
Despite its potential to shape this trend, Boston Dynamics, originator of the infamous BigDog robot, has been put up for sale by Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Apparently the executives at BD haven’t tried hard enough to generate revenue in the near-term. Bloomberg Business also reported that Google’s internal PR apparatus was not keen on BD’s efforts to make androids:
“After [Boston Dynamics’] latest robot video was posted to YouTube, in February, Google’s public-relations team expressed discomfort that Alphabet would be associated with a push into humanoid robotics. […] ‘There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,’ wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X. […] ‘We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers,’ she wrote.”
The term “uncanny valley” usually refers to the point when an animated human is not quite perfect, but really close — it turns out that being slightly off is much more unsettling than an obvious caricature. We need a similar term for the visceral reaction to repurposed humanness, like the Dwarf Gekko’s three limbs.
When nanotech and material science get a lot better, we’re going to have awesome cat toys. I’m envisioning tiny robots that behave like butterflies with slower reflexes, made out of a substance that cats can ingest, possibly seeded with the scent of tuna and the psychoactive properties of catnip. Toss a handful into the air, let the bots wander according to their algorithms, and watch your kitty hunt.
At that point, will we still have biological cats? Maybe we’ll consider mammals more trouble than they’re worth — a sentimental anachronism. Are you familiar with the PARO therapeutic robot? “It allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties.” In other words, PARO is a cute interactive bot that looks and sounds like a baby seal. It’s commonly used in old folks’ homes to compensate for the lack of human touch and affection. All PARO needs to function is a freshly charged battery.
In addition to PARO and other medical bots, consumer robot pets with various levels of capability have already met the market. But I wonder if we’ll be able to bond to creatures that we know aren’t “alive” in the traditional sense. Some people consider their pets to be their children — I wouldn’t go that far, but I do adore my cats. Wouldn’t it feel weird to love a machine that much?
Eh, probably not. I’m a product of my place and time, but even so, I could probably adjust to a mechanical cat. Only after Polera and Grace have passed away!
Male cyborgs are for warfare and female cyborgs are for sex. I’m not kidding — think about all the movies and books that feature human-seeming machines, especially commercial ones. What are they produced and used for? The male ones are fighters and the females are — I must use the uncouth term — fuckers. (There are exceptions, of course, like Gigolo Joe in AI and Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi.) Female cyborgs often serve the manic-pixie-dream-girl role for a male protagonist, for example in Ex Machina and to a certain extent also Her.
I don’t think the gender binary is good or immutable. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to note how it plays out in future-oriented media. Our ideas about new bodies and new souls are strictly bounded by the currently acceptable kinds of identities. I wrote about this topic before back in early January:
“What will our avatars look like in a hundred years? Post-gender and post-form, or exactly like the musclebound hunks and bit-titted blondes that titillate today’s Second Life denizens? We mustn’t forget the furries and weaboos, already a significant contingent of any visually oriented social network (which is all of them) (especially 4chan) (maybe they don’t haunt Instagram? idk).”
The response to that piece on Facebook was basically, “Nah, I’d look like myself but with more muscles.”
For contrast, a recent sci-fi story on Vice’s Motherboard is a strange and provocative exploration of alien bodies, described by the author as “vespo-sapphic pesticidepunk”. It’s an interactive game-like experience built with Twine, and well worth your time. I usually hate interactive features because they rarely add anything to the narrative, but this was beautiful and horrifying and oozy. Reading it made me feel like I was crazy.
All of this is on my mind because tonight I watched Natural City, an excellent Korean B-movie described thus in Wikipedia:
Two cops, R and Noma, hunt down renegade cyborgs. The cyborgs serve a number of duties, ranging from military commandos to “dolls”, engineered for companionship. [In this case, “companionship” is a euphemism for sex — amusingly, the wiki link led to the page for “sex worker”.] They have a limited 3-year lifespan, although black market technology has been developed to transfer a cyborg’s artificial intelligence into the brain of a human host.
This breakthrough compels R into finding Cyon, an orphaned prostitute, who may serve as the host for the mind of his doll Ria. He has fallen deeply in love with his doll and she has only a few days left to live.
Eventually, R must make a decision between leaving the colony with Ria to spend her last days with him on a paradise-like planet or save his friends when a renegade combat cyborg takes over the police headquarters.
“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.
I think “robot uprising” is the wrong term, although everyone uses it.
Killbots are the threat. Murder by robot.
Whether or not robots are killing for humans or via unexpected judgments made by a program is a secondary issue. There are plenty of homicidal humans who would press the button. An exploding drone is a problem regardless of who sent it.
Most likely, killbots will do the dirty work of humans, especially in the early years, before any other option is available. [Editor’s note: Middle Eastern war zones are already experiencing this scourge.]
It’s a real threat. I just worry that personifying the machines might lead us the wrong direction.
If you disagree, you join many world-class scientists and visionaries, from Hawking to Bostrom. I’m bucking the trend.