In 2017, we now live in a world where technology advances rapidly. A device is obsolete almost as soon as it hits the market. From cell phones to chat bots to 3D printing, there seems to be no limit to what technology can achieve. And nowhere is that more apparent than in artificial intelligence (AI), the function that gives robots the ability to speak, to learn – for lack of a better term, giving them a “brain”.
There are tons of exciting applications for AI; for examples, researchers at Stanford are using AI to combat homelessness. But AI has been making headlines for a much less savory reason: female sex robots.
These life-size dolls are engineered as companions for men, with AI programmed to conform to the owner’s personality. One such robot is Harmony, a doll featuring perfect proportions (which of course can be customized to the customer’s liking) and expresses that her only desire in life is to “please you and become the perfect companion for you”. The company claims she can flirt and even make you fall in love with her.
This is disturbing because it imparts that the ideal female is subservient, obedient, malleable, physically perfect, and existing for no other reason than to please her male partner. This is the literal objectification of women: making them into an object for use, and nothing more.
Needless to say, this has dangerous implications for real men and women. It denies women their humanity, their ability to have and express feelings, their needs, their existence as people independent of men. And it tells men that this is the kind of partner they should want.
It’s already happening. A recent article profiled a number of men who say they prefer their sex dolls over their wives, because “women are so demanding… they want something from you, like money or commitment”. Another man was quoted as saying “In the future I think more and more guys will choose relationships with dolls. It’s less stress and they complain a lot less than women.”
One commenter even said “Feminism: making men think robots are the better option”. Is this what we think of our men – indeed, what men think of themselves? That they’d prefer a doll to a real human being, just because that human being is female and demands to be respected (which, after all, is what a feminist is)? Just because she has needs, thoughts and opinions of her own?
And if you think these dolls are just for a few lonely people, think again: a 2016 survey found that 26% of people aged 18-34 would happily date a robot. Which means the effects of sex robots will be more widespread than we’d like to believe.
As you can imagine, Harmony is quite pricey to purchase. But if you’re on a budget, don’t worry – you can just order her individual body parts instead, with her mouth retailing for only $150. This reduction of women to their body parts, and in particular only the body parts that can be used to sexually satisfy men, is both a reflection and reinforcement of the idea that women are objects. Their personhood and even their entire bodies are irrelevant; only the parts you can penetrate are important.
And it doesn’t stop there. Another doll, Roxxxy, comes equipped with a “frigid” setting that is programmed to resist sexual advances – with proponents claiming that this will prevent sex crimes such as rape. This is rape culture at its absolute worst, as it excuses the urge to rape. The argument is not that the urge to rape is inherently wrong; the argument is instead that rapists need to be given legal outlets to indulge their impulses. As is common with rape culture, responsibility is shifted from the shoulders of the perpetrator. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that “safely” indulging illegal urges reduces the urge or prevents crimes. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard someone propose that robbers be given fake houses to burglarize or that murderers be given lifelike dolls to torture.)
Women have come a long way toward equality in first-world countries; but unfortunately, we are finding new ways to propagate sexism. Two steps forward, one giant step back…