Goldsmith’s collage will host the second international congress on Love and Sex with Robots this December. The topic has been in the news recently with the success of the new TV series based on Michael Crichton’s ‘Westworld’. Also with the news that a Robot Sex Cafe will open in London.
As we move deeper into the uncanny valley, the term for automata getting more and more human like, this is surely to become an issue. Although it has been a factor in Science Fiction for many years.
Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece ‘Metropolis’ features the iconic False Maria robot. This is a robot programmed with and later given the appearance of the heroine Maria, but also programmed to do help the bad guys. To test the robot can pass as human they take her to a club and have her perform an erotic dance.
Jumping forward to 1987 the character of Data was introduced in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. Data is an android, a self aware being capable of independent thought, although he lacks emotion and sometimes struggles to understand humanity. When it comes to sex we are told he is “Fully functional and programmed with multiple techniques”. This happens in the first regular episode after the pilot, ‘The Naked Now’. Data later repeats the line before an encounter with the Borg Queen, a being made up of both cybernetic and organic parts.
The line itself was first featured in an unsold pilot by ‘Star Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry, ‘The Quester Tapes’, about an android searching out tapes that contain data missing from his program. Meanwhile androids appear twice in the original ‘Star Trek’ series and both times it is implied that they are used for sex.
However mostly when artificial life forms are included in Science Fiction they are evil not sexual. The ‘Alien’ franchise has both, in the first film the evil android played by Ian Holm attempts to kill the heroine with a rolled up pornographic magazine. While the non cannon comic series has the adult version of the Newt character falling in love with a marine, Butler, later revealed to be a android, a fact he himself was unaware of.
Moving back to Data and the ‘Star Trek:TNG’ episode ‘The Measure of a Man’. In this episode Data’s rights are put on the line at a hearing. Is he a life form and entitled to the same rights as all other life forms, or is he merely a machine the property of Starfleet. During the hearing the fact that Data had a sexual encounter with another crew member is used as an example of his humanity. It is not the clinching argument.
The issue of love and sex with robots, both in science fiction and real life, is one of slavery. The same issue explored in ‘The Measure of a Man’ and the underlying issue of ‘Westworld’ by creating a race of disposable humanoid machines are we in effect creating a race of slaves?