Friday, 18 December 2015

[ the unusual xmas stocking ]

About 18 months ago I wrote a piece on technology, and its function in our society. Being a total technophile myself, I adore new gadgets, software, anything tech that makes life more interesting.

That being said, my opinion is still that we are inventing things faster than we understand them; the program capacity is far beyond our comprehension, and we are basically trying to create life - but not as we know it.

Being that it's the holiday time of the year, I also like to have a rant - ehem! - topical discussion and get the blood flowing. With my usual all-singing, all-dancing, arm-waving, hair-flicking style, I suggest you all prepare for this like you would a Sondheim musical, and get the drinks in now...


A close friend recently posted this and I'm reasonably sure my IQ dropped five points knowing that sex robots are a thing. It seriously occurred to me that this is where we need to start having a good look at ourselves as the superior creatures we are, the apparently evolved creatures, and this is what we spend time on.

Reasons I don't want to have sex with a robot are many and varied, but are pretty much the same reasons I don't want to have sex with my toaster. Firstly, it's a fucking toaster, and even having to say that out loud makes me feel like a complete twit. A toaster changes soft, bready products into toasty, crunchy, warm bready products. It does not, shockingly, stroke my shoulder, whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and make me a cuppa in the morning. That would be the coffee machine's job - also a piece of machinery with whom I like to keep my relationship platonic.

The breathtaking vulgarity of such inventions is hard to fathom, and yet, here we are; in a time when a machine can replace intimacy, apparently fulfilling all the needs you require in the bedroom department, without all the pesky emotional baggage that comes with it.

Theoretically, I'm not unaware of the allure of such technology. Dating is hard! Meeting someone new, putting yourself out there again and again; it's tiring, not to mention bruising to the ego. There's only so many cocktails you can drink, smiles you can fake, small talk that you can make, before the thought of slow water torture starts to look infinitely appealing. Thank gods for Netflix and online gaming.

Seriously though, shortcuts to happiness are sinister and insidious, and come in shiny boxes for a one-off fee of $4,999.00. And yours truly is not buying it, figuratively or otherwise.

The reason I'm dead-set again set against this type of technology is quite straight-forward; we are taking what makes us unique and amazing as a race, and attempting to mass-produce it. And not very well either. Surely I'm not the only one who finds this stunningly creepy...

I'm talking about emotion, interaction, eye-contact, blood flow, heart rate. A robot cannot reproduce these things and you cannot convince me otherwise. A chemical imbalance in the brain spawned some of the greatest poetry ever written, lines of prose that bring a tear to the eye. And I'm telling you now, unless it's trying to break your leg, a robot cannot make you cry like that.

Now before you get to it, let me not forget all the technology that is based on human body parts that have revolutionised medicine today; the humble hearing aid, the pacemaker, hip/knee/shoulder joints, robotic arms, and more recently, remote surgery which lets surgeons do the operation from a computer with a precision never seen before.

Let me also point out that all of the above are based on actual human body parts, that function as an extension of the body, where it cannot function for itself, or would better function with assistance. And in case any of you missed the point; these devices are helping your body do what it needs to do as a human body, they are not replacing an entire being.

A greater concern is the invention of machines that are making us lazier, while dehumanising us, one evil robot at a time. Have you thought about the good old dishwasher? No really, go with me on this; I know a goodly number of people personally who use a dishwasher every day. Every. Single. Day.

Now before you all lose your shit and start spouting the glories of timed washing, sparkling glasses, and water efficiency, let me tell you a little more about these friends of mine. Couple A are upper-middle-class, earn six-figure salaries each, spend a decent amount of time in their mortgaged apartment, and have no children. Friend B is a successful graphic designer who works from home most of the time, spends 4 days working long hours then takes 3 days off, and also has no children.

Finally, Couple C have 2 children, both over 10 but under 18, and swap who works to who stays at home with the kids regularly. They also earn close to $200K between them.

All these people, to a being, talk about their dishwasher with all the enthusiasm of watching paint dry. All of these people, TO A BEING, have washed up with me and told me how nice it was just to chill in the kitchen washing dishes and feeling the hot, soapy water. All these people, every one, washed up when they were children. Confused? Yeah, me too...

When I was a kid, washing up was done as a family. With two older brothers and one younger, it kept us out of mischief for a good 20 minutes and we spent some pretty quality time together when we did chores.

I'm well aware that not all families worked like this. I'm also aware that money is a big issue when it comes to conveniences. And whether by default or design, I am, in hindsight, ever so grateful for a life without a dishwasher. It represents all that is backward with domesticity in modern times and demonstrates a passive approach (a topic I've harried you with already) to life that borders on obscene. Poor dishwasher, who knew I thought it such a diabolical device!

Back to the sex robots. I desperately want someone to hold me just right, tell me I'm amazing, and make me laugh. Do I want it to be easy and fun? Of course. Do I want that without the messy, emotional stuff? Hell, no.

Sexbot cannot intuitively figure out if I want coffee or tea. It cannot laugh at my jokes in appropriate levels of enthusiasm, it cannot pick holes in my arguments and fight with me about comic books. It doesn't have the conceptual reasoning to do so.

And if I wanted the the kind of relationship where I didn't have to talk to anyone ever but still have sex, I'd get a lifetime subscription to Maxx Black and call it a day.

The insufferable arrogance of people who invent these types of things stating that we may prefer relationships with robots to those with humans or animals is top of the list of things I find unbelievably irresponsible as a duty to the human race, and makes me want to punch them. Hard. These people say that people like me are just afraid of them and the future of technology. Afraid of you? No, asshole, I'm not afraid of you, I'm afraid of being you.

The ratio of people who would prefer a robot to human contact is preposterously unbalanced, and stating that we are moving into a future where it will become more equitable is utter bullshit, mainly because if you haven't done a peer-reviewed study, followed by a publicly recognised groundswell, you are talking out of your ass.

Getting back on track though, my innate horror that we think it's appropriate to perpetuate such rubbish in developing our society only increases as we move forward. As I get older, my sincere hope is for a society where we get back to the grass-roots of communication; talking to each other. Eating meals with each other. Making eye-contact and transmitting unseen energy through our corporeal beings to each other.

This may seem at odds with an earnestness for flourishing technology, but it's simply not. Technology is the invention that is supposed to be making it easier for us to connect to ourselves. Not connect to depictions of ourselves.

Another point in my argument, in case you think I've missed this one, is also the awareness that people often use technology to connect with someone who is unable to be in physical contact. Soldiers and their partners, long-distance relationships, parents and children living halfway around the world, friends you never see but are always able to connect with. This is where I think mobile phones, tablets, computers, Skype, social media and email are marvelous feats of human invention.

We live in a world where you can be literally on the other side of the world from someone, and still have the illusion of being able to reach out and touch them. In theory, I have no issue with that. In fact, it warms me deeply to know that I will always be able to connect with ones I care about no matter how far from me they are.

Essentially, it comes down to circuitry; on one side of a phone/tablet/PC is a human. In the middle; a machine, wires and electricity moving in space producing sound and vision. On the other side of that connection is a human.

When it comes to robots, it may have been designed by a human, but there's no circuitry, no connection to the flesh. A SEX ROBOT IS STILL JUST A ROBOT.


So when it comes to xmas messages, let my first one be this; please make eye contact with me and hold my hand. Please call me and actually speak to me. Send me a picture of yourself eating too much ham and slightly drunk.

Then do this with all the people you love the most. Rinse and repeat until the desire to ever spend time with something that have as much emotional attachment to as your toaster, fades with the heightened blood flow and warm, gooey feeling in your tummy.

Or hey, come over and eat my food and watch my Netflix with me ;)