Thursday, August 14, 2008

Love and Sex with Robots, by David Levy

Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, by David Levy

Can we fall in love with a robot? The first half of this book attempts to answer this question. The author spends a long time defining love (I could have done without this excruciatingly wordy definition) and shows that a machine could emulate these attributes with surprisingly solid examples. People love their cars, love their pets, and fall in love over the internet; is a “virtual person” so far-fetched? I don’t know if I buy Levy’s arguments, but he makes a compelling case. The most interesting question the author raises (yet doesn’t answer) is where will we draw the line between life and technology? Consider that we can currently replace arms and legs with increasingly lifelike prosthetics. Artificial hearts and pacemakers routinely keep us alive, and cochlear implants give us back our hearing. Mechanical replacements for our eyes, lungs, and liver aren’t that far off. With all these advances, at what point does a person become more robot than human?

The second half discusses the practicality of sex with robots. He claims in many ways society has already embraced the most important components needed: erotic machinery and a lack of personal attachment. Levy goes into great detail about vibrators and sex toys here, making an effective observation that a full robot versus simply mechanical parts is not a huge distinction. Lack of personal attachment is embodied by prostitution. Levy goes on to predict that once technology can adequately develop a believable robotic woman, prostitution as we know it will cease. (We also in this half get a brief biography of Magnus Hirschfeld, a sexologist and sexual reformer in the early 1900’s; could my friend Rob be a descendant? Makes me wonder what else he might be building... :))

A funny story about reading this book: I’m a regular blood donor and took this with me while donating platelets one afternoon. As I read I discover that the second half of the book (the half detailing the history of sex toys) is populated with a large number of graphic illustrations! The phlebotomists (almost all women) would come by to see how I was doing and I found myself awkwardly hiding the pages like a kid caught reading a comic inside his textbook in class. Embarrassing.

First Sentence:
Why on earth should people fall in love with robots?

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