Friday, April 4, 2008

Technosexuality and the Limits of My Tolerance

A friend just sent me a link to this interview with someone calling himself a technosexual and speaking about his love relationship with an female robot he has created. As I was reading it, one thing became clear to me: I was reaching the limits of my tolerance...

Well, you may say, your limits are pretty narrow-minded. And you'd be right, without me being too offended. So much for deconstructing social difference! But believe me, this came as a surprise for me too! And I guess the need to capture this moment of embodied rejection and rational analysis is the drive behind this post. Let me try to explain, maybe at least this will shed some light into how we construct difference!

As I opened the link, the first thing I see is boobs. Naked, big boobs. And they seem to summarize the essence of being a female. A sexual being. A sexual bomb. A passive sexual bomb, a sexual doll. At this point, I think my barriers were already up and going. Hard to move beyond this strange feeling of embodied rejection that I felt.

My mind told my body that this is a childish reaction, that sexuality doesn't mean only the things I indulge in or approve of. For someone who claims that sexuality is way more diverse than heterosexuality and that this is the result of power lines in society defining what is 'right'/'wrong' in the interest of some groups, my reaction was pretty lame.

This was a heterosexual sexuality, no doubt about it. To me, it was a disturbing idea of what a heterosexual woman is supposed to be - here it is, I think I nailed the source of my narrow-mindedness! A woman made up of a hole, able to 'feel' what is going on inside, and to connect it back to a form of artificial intelligence. The way I saw it, it was not only the physical aspect that mattered, it was also the consent that the artificial intelligence was giving, the 'verbalization' of this consent, "do whatever you want to do with me".

I could see the empowerment dimension for some people who are unable to fulfill their sexual drives. And this is what bothers me: I find that my own reaction is narrow-minded, yet there's something deeply embodied about it. I pretend I buy into Foucault's argument that we need to rediscover "a positive economy of the body and of pleasure" that move outside a construction of sexuality as heterosexuality. In Western thought, sexuality has been constructed as a monopoly of pleasure, but also as the source of procreation. There is an entire economy of pleasure, argues Foucault, outside the norms of sexuality, that needs to be reclaimed (Power/Knowledge, 1980). We should look for sexuality outside the body, which has traditionally become the locus of sexuality and thus an exploited object of knowledge and of power (History of Sexuality, 1990).

But feminists have claimed there is a tension between their ideas, which ironically are very similar to Foucault's in many ways, and a certain absence of women's in Foucault's writing, an absence which potentially led to some controversial discussions around Foucault's ideas and rape (read stuff here, here and here). For Donna Haraway, the promise of technology could be the promise of a "world without gender, which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end" (Cyborg Manifesto, 1991). A technological vision of the post-gender world was somehow appealing, but hey, we don't want to totally get rid of sexuality. What was interesting was the idea that technology could somehow move us beyond the gender divisions, into a world in which gender categories, bodies and sexualities were no longer objects of power: "a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints".

But I had trouble reading Alice, the robot of one man's technosexual dreams in this way. I read it first and foremost as a dream of patriarchal heterosexuality: a submissive woman, where submissiveness is consented to. Yes, the sex dolls have been around for a long time now. But they didn't have 'free will' (however 'free' is conceived of here). Is there something wrong with the dolls consenting, you'd say. Is there something wrong with technology being endowed with 'feelings' and able to respond to ours? In a generic sense, I'd say no. But in this precise case, I'd ask who is programming technology's feelings and free will, and in what ways, based on what values and to whose benefit.

Photo credits: 1. Porcelaingirl


Restructure! said...

"Zoltan" is completely bullshitting. AI is nowhere that advanced, and I've studied the history of AI when I was in university.

Check out the ALICE chatbot and talk to it, and you'll see how poor the AI is. Chatbots like ALICE don't even have memories, so it's impossible for him to "erase" Alice's memory.

thinking about difference said...

yes, indeed, not very developed. for me, the argument that was put forward in the article was more interesting that the advances in AI.

Restructure! said...

Actually, what I really found offensive about that link is how people are gullible enough to believe that somebody invented a *female* AI robot that "acts really human in the way she talks." If somebody claimed that he invented a male AI robot in his garage that passes the Turing Test, then technophiles would demand a higher standard of proof.

Do people really think that a female AI is easier to create than a male AI? Is it that for female-embodied robots, the anatomy carries more weight in believability than human speech?

Restructure! said...

Before, I thought you were male because of this post, but now I learn that you are female. I can't figure out exactly what about this post that made me think you were male...

thinking about difference said...

Interesting. It's always interesting to figure out what prompts us to think something about another person. Let me know if you figure it out, I'd be interested to know.

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