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Turned on: Science, Sex and Robots (英語) MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, SACD
MP3 CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audio, SACD
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The idea of the seductive sex robot is the stuff of myth, legend and science fiction. From the ancient Greeks to 21st-century movies, robots in human form have captured our imagination, our hopes and our fears. But beyond the fantasies there are real and fundamental questions about our relationship with technology as it moves into the realm of robotics.
Sexual activity is central to our very existence; it shapes how we think, how we act and how we live. With advances in technology come machines that may one day think independently. What will happen to us when we form close relationships with these intelligent systems? Sex robots are here and here to stay, and more are coming.
This audiobook explores how the emerging and future development of sexual companion robots might affect us and the society in which we live. It explores the social changes arising from emerging technologies and our relationships with the machines that may someday care for us and about us.
Chapter by chapter, this audiobook will build on the science and the philosophy surrounding our most intimate relationship with technology. The scene is set with the history of the artificial sexual companion, then goes on to explore the ‘modern' robot and the 20th-century sci-fi that promised us our own robot slaves.
This is followed by an explanation of artificial intelligence and the urge to create sentient machines. It delves into our own psychology: how does desire affect our own behaviour, and can we become attached to an inanimate object? This then leads to a discussion of the good (robots making society a better place) and the bad (the potential for all to go wrong).
If a sex robot is defined as a thing, as human property, then they existed once, currently don't really exist and may exist again in the middling future. In antiquity slaves were property and presumed to have no agency. It was routine and uncontroversial for elite slave-owning males to buy and use nubile male and female slaves for sex. As Kyle Harper recounts in his “Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275–425”, consequences included masters becoming (stupidly) besotted with their slave sex-objects, wifely jealousy .. and unintended offspring who would join the next generation of slaves.
Antique ‘sex robots’ were, from a purely functional point of view, poorly implemented. Their inner drives and motivations were not aligned with their 'function’ which made ownership fraught and only manageable through sustained terror. Devlin’s first degree was in archaeology so she will know all this. It would have been good to read about the social, ethical and even practical implications of the widespread availability of high-functioning ‘sex robots’ in antiquity. Devlin's discussion is however superficial (pp.116-117), flagging only the usual oppressively gendered roles found in all premodern societies stabilised by male violence. She also notes a pre-Christian sexual disinhibition of which she approves.
“Turned On” is not a book of science with some feminist advocacy, it's a feminist tract centred on sex-with-artefacts (p.213). What’s this for example - a mocking rebuke to the transgression of equal outcomes?
“Why do we experience things? How do the mechanisms of our bodies and brains give rise to conscious sensations? Where does that consciousness come from? You don’t have to have an answer in the Great Zombie Debate. The philosophers can’t agree on it either, Which is why you have a bunch of very clever middle-aged white men amusingly inventing words like‘ ‘zoombie’ and ‘zimboe’ to put forward their own variations on the theory. “ (p. 102)
It's certainly of the moment, but it jars.
Take objectification, something she takes strong issue with. The discussion is phenomenological: an example might be a builder wolf-whistling an attractive woman in the street; or a bunch of women hooting and laughing at a male stripper at a ‘hen party’. In the broad-brush triune brain model, primary drives such as lust are associated with the (animalistic) brainstem formation; emotional attachment with the mammalian limbic system; and rational interaction with hominid cortical systems. It’s not much of a surprise that humans can exhibit sexual behaviour dominated by any of these loci. Objectification (the mode of lust-dominance) would then be a brain-stem determined form of behaviour. In more refined circles we expect cortical inhibition/mediation of primary drives to deliver more measured, prosocial behaviour factoring in social context. Our biology is complicated in social settings.
There isn’t any such framing in Devlin's book. Just normative presumption that objectification is out there (for some reason), that’s it’s wrong and that current sex doll designs play up to it. This is to sell the reader short, replacing analysis with moralising. Naturally we don't wish to succumb to the naturalistic fallacy; humans with their small group evolutionary history are imperfectly adapted to large scale societies. There are plenty of natural urges we need to regulate and indeed legislate against. There are few easy answers here as Devlin would be the first to argue, in contexts such as the legality and ethics of child sex dolls.
Devlin adopts the fashionable feminist view that phenomenal gender differences are purely social constructs. This despite the enormous weight of hard evidence (evolutionary, neuroanatomic, genomic, physical, psychometric) for well-defined and reproducible biological differences between the sexes. Differences which are hardly obscure, but recognition of which might undermine the claims of her interest group. Public choice theory assumes its usual relevance here.
Devlin interviews the CEO of RealDoll, Matt McMullen, and gives him a hard time about the overwhelming preponderance of hyper-sexualised female dolls and robots. 'Where are the less-sexualised dolls, the male dolls?' she wants to know. Actually this is a point she takes up with all the doll manufacturers she meets. The replies she gets are defensive, framed in terms of male-female differences in sexuality leading to skews in demand. Devlin is having none of it, blaming biased marketing and uncritical social conditioning (pp. 153-154). Time for a quick review of microeconomics (supply-demand equilibria?) then as I reflect on the democracy of markets in probing the world as it actually is.
Then we read this in a meandering discussion of rape fantasies and the claimed lack of any genetic influence:
“If anything, rape would theoretically reduce the reproductive success of our ancestors as it takes away selective genetic choice. “ (p. 233).
Reality is more nuanced. Rape is historically (and currently) commonplace in intergroup conflicts. It's plainly adaptive for males in the absence of draconian ingroup penalties. I suggest a quick read of Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene".
Gendered social roles have historically been oppressive to women. There are biological reasons (eg male physical strength, aggression and paternity-uncertainty) which interlink with social reasons (eg within-family inheritance) which are specific to different kinds of society and which need to be explicitly teased out. If capitalism appears to be intrinsically gender-blind in its desire to free *everyone* up to maximally work, then the deleterious effects on human self-reproduction also need some analysis.
A perennial science-fictional trope referenced by Tom Whipple, The Times science editor in his review of Devlin's book, is that of the perfected sex robot as a kind of sterile mosquito (which has already resulted in some local extinctions of this malaria disease vector). This is not a problem we'll face anytime soon but is there something to it? Devlin is unworried while Whipple remains concerned. Plainly it’s hard to assess an unknown artefact but with universal and easy access to contraception in the west, perhaps we already have a natural experiment. Check those Total Fertility Ratios. We are already selecting for women who positively want children (rather than just sex); ubiquitous effective and sterile sex robots would select for men with a similar drive. Let's just hope there's that much variability in the gene pool.
In summary Devlin's book is an easy and amusing read: somewhat superficial; an interesting tour of the sex doll/sex toy landscape which will be unfamiliar to many readers; intriguing confessional snippets from the author's private life. The book is not particularly scandalous or salacious, it's not very conceptual or analytic and its opinions are conventional liberal left. Put aside a slightly sprawling and uneven structure and it reads like an extended New Scientist article.
I must mention first off that I found this book to be an incredible and very informative read. It combines science, sex and technology and how those issues relate to men, women, animals and humanity at the same time. If you have wondered about the sex robot industry and the progress being made in making them more human like you will love this book. Whether you are in favor or against robot companions you will find this book a thoughtful and fascinating read. If you read the book or saw the movie Blade Runner (the original and the squeal) and were fascinated by the theme you will love this book. In that book and movie they referred to the technology created units as "replicants' rather than robots.
This book covers the following topics in its ten chapters: Been there, done that, for one: welcome our new robot overlords, on paperclips, cats and zombies, you had me at “hello world.” Silone valleys, it’s all academic, killer gynoids and manie pizie dream bots, utopia/dystopia, law and disorders, and what comes next?
Whether we accept it or not the future of humans is directly linked to future technology and our relationship to robots will continue to evolve.
Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Martial Art and Warrior Haiku and Senryu).