DAVID LEVY: LOVE & SEX WITH ROBOTS: THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN-ROBOT RELATIONSHIPS (Harper-Collins, Nov 2007)
David Levy is sure that androids, which are robots appearing in human form, may someday reproduce other humanoid robots, who will live and love and be loved by human beings. Proving his thesis, the androids from his earlier user-friendly primer for the uninitiated, ROBOTS UNLIMITED: LIFE IN A VIRTUAL AGE, have—with an assist from their creator-- begotten his controversial new book, LOVE & SEX WITH ROBOTS: THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN-ROBOT RELATIONSHIPS (Harper-Collins, November, 2007).
When Levy, a much-lauded chess master and specialist in Artificial Intelligence (AI), finished writing ROBOTS UNLIMITED, he believed he had only scratched the surface. Although ROBOTS UNLIMITED predicted that by mid-century, the intellectual and creative powers of robots would be boundless—or at least, unrestricted, Levy assumed much more needed to be said about the how and why of the expected sexual interactions between humans (that’s us) and androids.
Building on his well-researched and carefully presented history of the variety of human sexual proclivities through the ages, Levy’s new book imagines a world where robots who look like humans will become sexual—and even marital –partners of those of us who believe we are human (whatever that means). Levy is convinced that “humans falling in love with robots are a natural extension of more conventional human feelings of love and…that sex with robots is a natural extension of human sexuality.”
By mid-century (that’s SOON), he predicts, “our grandchildren’s generation will embrace robots…as their companions, friends, and lovers.” Robots, he says, will be programmed to return their love and “maximize the satisfaction and enjoyment of their human partners.”
Whether readers are willing or able to make what Levy calls “The mental leap to sex with robots” remains to be seen. Questions explode from every page. Will robots programmed to be interacting human sexual beings make our lives—or those of our grandchildren—better and if so, how and why? Levy asserts that robotic sex will reduce teenage pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and even pedophilia.
Possibly. For humanoid robots will carry their own as-yet-unidentified baggage. The widowed, aged, lonely, sick, and disabled may find once-lost gratification with their robotic sexual partners but will these humanoid robots be any more available physically and emotionally to "sexually marginalized” individuals than human partners might be?
The philosophical problems of "Roboethics" in this world-to-come are many. Since Levy sees robots anthropomorphically, he worries how humans will treat robots’ feelings and how humans will try to control robotic behavior. On the other side of the fence are the issues of robotic sex for humans. For example, how will a spouse or partner react to robotic sex. Will it be considered infidelity? Will robot swapping be equated with spouse swapping?
Levy only perfunctorily addresses the social problems inherent in developing a population of humanoid robots who are, he anticipates, quicker, smarter, more skillful, and more sexually proficient than humans. Will creating a master race of robots result in Nazi-like attempts to control the humanly inferior, non-robotic populace? Will these idealized robots become an immigration problem as they take over from humans? If they are “all but indistinguishable to the vast majority of the human population,” how will humans deal with them?
On the sexual level, if robots develop more satisfying sexual techniques, will humans be jealous and destroy them? If robots become “surrogate humans,” will actual humans be so threatened that they war with the robots? If robots can choose between good and evil, which will they choose, and who says they will choose us—or we will choose them?
Agree or disagree with Levy’s contentions, his books should make you think. His books should make you reread Aldous Huxley’s 1920s prophesies in BRAVE NEW WORLD. They’ll even remind you of the old song, “Paper Doll,” which demonstrated the intensity of wartime longing for substitute sexual objects.
Most of all, Levy will make you look differently at what’s happening in our world. Levy’s picture of the future should awaken you to the truths in inherent in our present-day "technological revolution," where 20% of us prefer our computers to conversations with real people. And think differently about what might be coming down the pike while we wait for the light to change.
As for me, after looking into Levy’s crystal ball, I’m not sure about the sexual blandishments of robotic relationships. Certainly,I’d welcome what he calls “user-robots” who would vacuum, cut grass, do dishes, clean my basement, organize my messy desk, give Martha Stewartish dinner parties. Welcome them with open arms.
But as far as sex is concerned, I’ll stick with the human variety. It’s all I know. For now, it’s all I care to know.