SEXUALISING TECHNOLOGY – PODCAST

Design and Art Lab on Acast
Development notes and files

The Theory of Affordances – James J. Gibson

Affordances are about what the environment offers the individual. We can identify affordances when we consider the qualities of objects and reality. Everything has properties and qualities that help define objects’ possible uses or give people an understanding of how they should or can be used. Another point Gibson made is that behaviour affords behaviour. There is a chain of events in place. Since people started changing the surface of the Earth, their developments brought more change. The surface of the Earth and the substances we interact with are developed. 

In many cases, people understand what actions can happen with a particular object, as some things have perceptible properties, such as a chair or a door handle. We can ask ourselves what we can do with it – an object or a place and how do we relate to that object.

Alone Together – Sherry Turkle

Turkle touches more on the psychological and social implications of the importance of technology on our society. She makes points about the dangers of technology as giving us an illusion of companionship. People have vulnerabilities that big companies, through technology, can easily take advantage of and manipulate. We are connected to many people, but the new technologies allow us to dial down human contact. Sherry Turkle mentions in her essay, a book Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy, which talks about the future development of sex robots. Turkle makes points about people mediating relationships and changing their social behaviours by giving a lot of importance to ever-present screens in our lives. 

Turkle mentions a critical point in her paper: computers learn our patterns, which has implications on how people would interact with future AI-capable sex robots. Even now, robots are seen as an answer to loneliness.

The Uncanny Valley – Masahiro Mori

Mori, a Japanese robotics professor, hypothesized about our responses to human-like robots. Even though expressed in a very technical and academic style, the paper talks about the human perception of technology. According to Mori, a person’s response to a human-like robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion if we were not fooled that the robot is human. The discrepancies between the robot and a human would give people a feeling of eeriness – the uncanny valley. 

Based on the three readings: The Theory of Affordances, Alone Together and The Uncanny Valley, working with Kelsey and Francesca, we identified ten possible talking titles:

  1. Sexualising technology
  2. Attachment and Detachment
  3. Mental health (in connection with technology)
  4. Robots as an answer to loneliness 
  5. The realness of real 
  6. Behaviour affords behaviour
  7. Human evolution (how we try to integrate technology in physiology)
  8. Control 
  9. Patterns of human experience
  10. Obsolescence (lifestyles of technology versus lifestyles of humans)

For the podcast hosted by me, I chose to discuss ideas on the topic of Sexualising Technology

The talking points I was interested in were mostly based on Turkle’s Alone Together paper. The lengthy mentions of Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots book in that text made me think a lot about sex robots and other instances of sexualizing technology. I believed there might be differences in what the industry focuses on when making products seen as made for men instead of products for women. Men are offered synthetic replacements for real women while women are given tools teaching them to achieve sexual satisfaction, such as sex toys that read the brain waves, for example. 

Also, the common theme of sex robots in our stories and media such as Westworld and Blade Runner influences design paths and goals of actual products, such as appearance, motion limitations, materials used, levels of possible interaction between such robots and a person. Centuries ago, people were already interested in the idea that we could build a perfect person to love. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion, who fell in love with a sculpture of a woman he sculpted, was rewarded by gods and his creation was brought to life.

Currently, there is more depiction of emotional connections between robots and humans than physical ones in fiction, so attempts at making a sex robot you can communicate with are interesting to me. Regarding the development of AI sex robots, I wanted to discuss that computers learn our patterns, as mentioned in Turkle’s paper. That could lead to further considerations whether robots can replace people in relationships if they can fulfil the same physical and emotional functions as a human would? Would people prefer a connection with a synthetic product at some point rather than another human? Turkle makes a point that technology allows us to dial down human connections. Personally, I was curious to explore why people found that prospect appealing.

 In terms of the anthropomorphic design of robot sex dolls, why do we want our robots to look like people? Why do sex robots primarily resemble women? Can it be connected to the theory of affordances? We want the form of objects we use for our sexual encounters to resemble real people. We want the artificial skin to feel soft and warm because this is what human touch feels like. We can also consider the ethical aspects of seeing female bodies as commodities, objectifying women, or speculating about power in relationships. Is the appeal of female sex robots connected to issues of control and submissiveness? What would human to human relationships look like in a world with fully functional sex robots? There is interesting potential to discuss ethical, moral and legal implications of having functioning sex robots in our society.

I also looked at the two recent articles about the increased interest in robot sex dolls seen during the pandemic, on The Society Pages and on Insider.

Both of these texts describe the huge rise in interest in sexbots. They mention risks to our society as the changes happen at a pace that the current legislative process is not keeping up with. They also bring up the potential idea that sex robots would help alleviate the issues of sexual violence. However, is this the right path to take? The article mentions the idea that AI robots should have agency, and as a society, we need to consider questions of sexual consent. 

In addition, my knowledge of the current state of the sexbot industry was also based on Sex, Robots and Vegan Meat by Jenny Kleeman, published in April 2021. Kleeman visited and interviewed various sex bot companies and makers to gauge how advanced their efforts are. The interesting part of that book was the inclusion of interviews with people who were in relationships with sexbots.

Sex Robots & Vegan Meat: Adventures at the Frontier of Birth, Food, Sex and  Death (Audio Download): Jenny Kleeman, Jenny Kleeman, Picador: Amazon.co.uk

Based on these considerations, I decided to focus on these talking points for my podcast.

  1. Why do we want to have relationships with our technology?
  2. Sex robots are meant to be products. Can you think of any media depictions of sexbots? Are we near realizing these storylines soon based on these depictions and the current advancements in sexbot design?
  3. Do we need sexbots at all? Could they be good for society overall, or does it all present a dangerous scenario for the future of humanity?
  4. Like Sherry Turkles said in Alone Together, computers learn our patterns. If we manage to build sexbots with more sophisticated AI functions, wouldn’t they make perfect partners? Always anticipating our needs, attuned to our behaviours and moods? Could we reach a point when people prefer a relationship with a synthetic robot rather than other humans? 
  5. I want to also touch on the tendencies of sexbot industries to focus mainly on creating robots with female features. So do you think that men are offered synthetic replacements for women? What is the approach when creating sex technology for women? How can all of this be beneficial or dangerous for women and men in the long term? 
Sexualising Technology (click on the image to listen)

Reflection

There were no major technical issues with the podcast recording. For my podcast episode, I used Macbook and Avid set up equipment in the Master’s studio room. At some point, Garageband stopped the recording with a slow disc message, and we had to restart the recording from that point. Overall, I think my guests were engaged and brought up interesting points. From my experience as a guest on other podcasts, I know it is hard to always relate back what we talk about to the academic readings because, as humans, we understand the world through the lens of our feelings and experiences. 

I had to do some post-production work on the recording. I used Adobe Audacity to add intro and outro music. I also used effects such as Adaptive Noise Reduction, Speech Volume Leveler, Dynamics Processing, Parametric Equalizer and Hard Limiter, which together improve the quality of human voices in podcasts. 

Francesca performed music for our podcasts using her kazoo instrument. I applied various effects such as delay, pitch change and others to the file with her performance to create an intro and outro inspired by electronic music. 

Francesca’s original kazoo performance
Intro Outro music, mixed by me

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