Jess Murray

Do Androids Dream of Middle-Aged Bachelors?

Robots are infinitely cool. Denying that puts you in the same category of numbskulled pricks that preferred to play football while I sat inside the class room, anaemic-skinned, making an electronic black box with wheels move forward fifty centimeters, turn ninety degrees and in a spectacular conclusion, beep. I was seven then, and to me, that was the future. I’d sit back stuffing my face with a Club biscuit, whilst someone other than the chubby Turkish boy with low self esteem did my bidding. I was Stalin, Mussolini, Hussein. I was the fucking king.

Robots went from strength to strength from that moment onwards. One Christmas I received a robotic dog called ‘Poochi’, who would randomly yap, flap his ears and walk about like a depressingly pissed fresher after their virginal experience at Life. If you pressed and patted Poo-cheeʼs head in the right combination he would bark the first few bars of Old McDonald, which was a fucking great party trick.  And Robot Wars? Remember sitting on the edge of the sofa, tense, sweating, knowing that tonight one unlucky family of contestants would have to take home their childʼs mangled organs in a cardboard box? That was always a sad thought, despite the fact that their offspring was a cold, heartless machine. But now Iʼm older and more cynical, and simply doing a 180 spin when making contact with an immovable object just doesnʼt cut the mustard. I want a robot to passionately converse with. A robot to paint for me. A robot to suck my dick.

But then again, do I? Doubts arise not just because I might get specks of rust lodged under my foreskin, but rather from the culmination of ethical, philosophical and social dilemmas that would arise from such a situation. As every great science-fiction thinker before me has pondered: at what stage do we give an artificially intelligent being rights? Despite the absence of organic material – which in its very nature is a biological algorithm – what fundamental difference would exist between an artificially thinking-and-moving human construct and a human being? At what stage would artificial intelligence threaten the unique status that we attribute to ourselves, the human race?

Such questions have re-arisen for me after the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, which showcased a range of developments in the semi-affordable robotic category. In comparison to the rudimentary robotic technology of the 90s, the robots of 2010 have come a long, long way. In considering how far we have come in fifteen years, it is both exciting and frightening to think where we will be in 2040, which, as proof that an arts students can do maths, is only thirty years away. Despite obviously being concerned with climate change, it will probably be more than thirty years before the real effects of that problem hit society like Cheryl Cole hit that toilet cleaner. Developments in artificial intelligence, however, may well be causing major social dilemmas before then.

During the summer I read a paper by some beard-ridden computer scientist, who, based on a trajectory of technological development, argued that the point at which artificial intelligence becomes reflexive and self-aware will be upon us within the next few decades. And so it thus may well be within our lifetime that the lonely man no longer has to look to Thailand for a wife. Your soul-mate could be designed, from their physical appearance to their personality, and ordered to arrive – just like Laura Palmer – wrapped in plastic, within 14-21 working days. I mean, you would probably still be getting them from Thailand, but unless directly specified, theyʼd be able to speak some English other than Ê»yesʼ, Ê»okʼ, and Ê»sexy sexy?ʼ.

On the physical side, weʼre not that far off. Since 1996 Abyss Creations have been making replica human beings that sort of look and sort of feel like a fresh corpse, customisable even down to the colour of their nail polish and the shape of their pubic hair. For the more particular customer, one can add a non-detachable penis onto the lady parts for an extra grand. Unfortunately my lack of overdraft doesnʼt cater for such a product.

But most interesting is the question of what one, if so desired, would request of an artificial companion in terms of mental capacity once artificial intelligence becomes indistinguishable to that of a humanʼs. At first thought Iʼm sure most men would automatically list certain specifications typical to patriarchal concerns: she cooks, she cleans, she doesnʼt complain, she doesnʼt cheat, she fulfils any sexual request (with ʻanyʼ as the key word). However, on closer thought, the less emotionally hardened man would find such a relationship unsatisfactory. Friendship and love find their beauty within differences, disputes, compromises. Without that, a relationship is no different to masturbating in front of the mirror. And what is a relationship if one party has no choice but to ʻloveʼ the other? It would be a greyscale love, a love of emptiness, a life of knowing you were only loved because you demanded it be so. But in giving an artificially intelligent life form the same capacity of free-will as a human being, suddenly the ambition to create an identical replica of a human life seems pointless: thereʼs close to seven billion of us knocking about already.

A robotic relationship including free-will would be problematic. The man in the relationship may be overjoyed with the 32DD breasts heʼs designed, but would the woman really appreciate being modelled on such an objectifying premise? And what’s to stop her moving in with the guy next door, sporting a six pack and an impressive career portfolio: youʼre just some jerk-off pervert whoʼs spent seven grand on a synthetic life form.

It is not long before our society has to face a fundamental question: do we keep robotic development within a fundamentally non-reflexive ʻslaveʼ capacity, or do we develop the ability for them to think like us? But in the latterʼs case, wouldnʼt we just be
better off keeping to tradition and sticking to humanity? Or is there a place, in this ever more post-modern world, for synthetic love?