Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Automatic Sweethearts for Transhumanists: Sexbots on the Rise

More than a hundred years ago, the American philosopher and ur-psychologist William James once briefly discussed, in one of the footnotes to his book Pragmatism, the possibility and desirability of a sexual companion that acted exactly like a real human lover would, but that did not feel anything at all. James called this fantasy an "automatic sweetheart". Philosophers of mind would later, dropping the erotic connotations, speak of a "philosophical zombie".

Today, it seems, automatic sweethearts have already become a reality. They are called sex robots or simply "sexbots". You can buy them on the internet (, which I first misread as Sexbots R Us), the basic, "unmotorized" version for  6,000 USD (plus shipping and handling) and the advanced version ("self-contained, rechargeable and touch activated") for 11,299 USD. Tough choice, but at least you can try them before you buy, that is, rent them first to make sure it's the right thing for you. What you are being promised is a "life-like sexual companion" with "life-like movements" and a removable (for easier cleaning) skin with "natural flesh-like feel" who is designed "with the movements needed to perform sexual acts" so it can "actually do the job". However, what you really get, judging from the pictures and short videos in which you can see the bots in action, is an (either male or female) giant Barbie Doll, fresh from the Uncanny Valley. There's even a short video where you can watch Ken and Barbie having sex, which is about as arousing as watching two coupling ladybirds. Honestly, I would much rather use my hand than do it with one of those bots.

But then, I'm not a transhumanist. If I were one I would be obliged to celebrate the rise of the sexbots as another victory in our brave struggle against nature and against nasty bioluddites. Last month the Centre for Transhumanity republished on their website an article by a certain Hank Pellisier entitled "Sexbots Will Give Us Longevity Orgasms". The same article had already been published three years earlier in the magazine of the World Transhumanist Association humanity plus (when the author still called himself "Hank Hyena", which is probably the worst pseudonym in the history of pseudonyms). The images show two sparsely clad and certainly very enticing young women who supposedly are meant to be taken for paradigmatic sexbots (and who look nothing like the real ones of the Ken & Barbie type). The article begins by informing us that sex is good for us, the more and the more explosive, the better. But that means that we hardly ever get enough of it. Real human companions tend to have the occasional headache or their period or have to work or what have you, so twice a day is out of the question, and after a while the sex you get is not even particularly good, which is really bad for your mental and physical health. Enter the sexbots, which are exactly the kind of sexual partner that we always wanted, only much, much better, like just about everything in the technologically enchanted posthuman world that transhumanists are so fond of salivating over. You like sex? You ain't seen nothing yet. By the year 2050

"sexbots will electrocute our flesh with climaxes thrice as gigantic because they’ll be more desirable, patient, eager, and altruistic than their meat-bag competition, plus they’ll be uploaded with supreme sex-skills from millennia of erotic manuals, archives and academic experiments, and their anatomy will feature sexplosive devices. Sexbots will heighten our ecstasy until we have shrieking, frothy, bug-eyed, amnesia-inducing orgasms. They’ll offer us quadruple-tongued cunnilingus, open-throat silky fellatio, deliriously gentle kissing, transcendent nipple tweaking, g-spot massage & prostate milking dexterity, plus 2,000 varieties of coital rhythm with scented lubes — this will all be ours when the Sexbots arrive."

Wow, I can't wait. The guy is not joking, by the way. He seems to really mean it. Finally we're going to get the kind of sex that we deserve. Life will be as it should have been all along. And it's so healthy and can easily add several years to your life. And it's so much easier. No more foreplay, no more boring conversations, no commitment or obligations, no embarrassing questions, no talking back. Perfect!

"Sexbots will never have headaches, fatigue, impotence, premature ejaculation, pubic lice, disinterest, menstrual blood, jock strap itch, yeast infections, genital warts, AIDS/HIV, herpes, silly expectations, or inhibiting phobias. Sexbots will never stalk us, rape us, diss us on their blog, weep when we dump them, or tell their friends we were boring in bed."

Hyena/ Pellisier further predicts that sexbots will come with an option: eye contact or no eye contact. And they will shower after we have used them "and put themselves back in the closet." So convenient.

So sexbots are really good for us on so many levels. Life extension, the holy grail of transhumanism. Well-being and happiness for everyone, at any time, the hedonistic imperative. And of course control, independence, autonomy. Nature finally defeated. We don't need anyone, and we are not needed by anyone. (Human lovers are much too needy. We don't need that.) Sexbots make us free. We can finally take without having to give anything back. We don't have to worry about what they feel. They never disobey. We can just use them. Humans like to see themselves as ends and tend to resent being treated as a mere means. Sexbots won't object. They are means.


  1. What a strange article. Nevertheless, it was entertaining.

    I am reminded of an article on moral machines. Could a sexbot be one of them?

    1. Why strange? In what way? As for moral machines, yes, sure, how about a sexbot that is programmed to have sex only with their legal partner, or, if that is not an option (you never know), their owner.

  2. You write about some odd things, like this one. (I can't believe that the first picture is of a sexbot.) But the one that stands out is the 'ingratitude of nature'. So I am thinking that with a sexbot ingratitude would not be a problem. Nevertheless, having the issue of ingratitude thrown in your face now and then can be a wake-up call and a point of self-reflection and development, because someone getting angry with you makes you think, that's if you're not totally self-centered.

    The ingratitude of nature is also a strange concept to get one's head around, The concept of getting one's head around something is also weird. I am also thinking of the "selfish gene" and its ingratitude to the rest of the body, in that it's only focused on its own mission. Adam Smith had a similar viewpoint about self-interest, that it is through the pursuit of one's own self-interest that society gains the most and develops best. Smith's view is something like ingratitude to the greater concern being natural and positive like Hugo believed.

    On the subject of Victor Hugo, I found interesting what he said about architecture (Notra-Dame de Paris), that as a means of art and expression it was being surpassed by the printed text. I have been trying to get my head around that one too. He thought it was the end of architecture, that it wasn't modernizing, that it was being eclipsed by the printing press. I found that odd, Hugo comparing the two as though they did the same job. After all, their missions are totally different.

    Perhaps architecture didn't speak to him anymore. Nevertheless, I think Hugo was showing his ingratitude to architecture.

    Perhaps the perception that we are morally 'unfit for the future' also has to do with our ingratitude.

  3. And right you are: the first picture is not a sexbot but Daryl Hannah as the replicant Pris in "Blade Runner". She was the "basic pleasure model", remember? It's how we probably imagine our sexbots. The reality is shown in the second picture.

    About ingratitude: I don't think you can be grateful or ungrateful to a sexbot, unless the sexbot has feelings, consciousness and free will, or else if you can be grateful to things, which I don't think you can. To "life" perhaps, "nature" or the "universe", but then those are not things. And what Hugo meant by ingratitude of nature is of course not that nature is ungrateful, but rather that we are naturally ungrateful or that our ingratitude (to our parents or generally to those preceding us) serves a progressive, future-oriented tendency in nature and is, to that extent or in that respect, justified.

    Perhaps that is indeed similar to the allegedly beneficial effects of people pursuing their own selfish interests. Wasn't it Mandeville who famously argued that private vice is public virtue (or good)? As did Smith, much later, in the Wealth of the Nations, but there's also the Smith of the Theory of Moral Sentiments who paints a very different picture of human nature.

    I haven't read Notre Dame de Paris yet (but it's high up on my list), so can't say much about the interesting remark you cite. You seem to be confident that architecture and the printed word have different missions. I'm not so sure about that. Not to the extent that they are arts or are meant to communicate ideas. And architecture has always also had that purpose, didn't it?

    1. Perhaps Hugo thought architecture had become too elite and an expression of only a few, mainly the Church and officialdom. Not everybody could be an architect. The majority had to exist in its shadow and be dominated by it. On the other hand, the printed word was more an egalitarian and emancipating endeavor. Almost everybody had the potential to partake in it. (I'm sure Hugo felt he was a leader in the latter.)

      I do think that architecture and the printed word do appeal to difference senses. But one thing they have in common is as stimulant. We need stimulation to remain alive and awake and architecture and the printed word do that.

      I must admit I have never seen '"Blade Runner". (I will now go to the video store and rent it.) There was a similar entity in the movie "Soylant Green" who was known as 'furniture'.

    2. Blade Runner is a great movie and raises a lot of interesting questions, some of which you and I have already been discussing, for instance the obligations that the creator has to his creature or the moral status of deliberately produced and artificial, but conscious and sentient beings.

    3. Well, I did not enjoy Blade Runner at all. It was dated and passe. It reminded my of the move "Brazil" (1985). But as I recall, that movie was better and more entertaining. Brazil also had a light, human side to it, which Blade Runner did not. "Soylent Green" was also a better movie in trying to depict the future.

    4. Sorry to hear that. You're right of course that it doesn't have a light side and I don't think it's meant to give a realistic picture of a possible future. And as for not being "human", I know what you mean, but I think that's exactly the point of it: that the humans in the film often appear less human than the allegedly unfeeling replicants. It raises in a very poignant way the question what it means to be human, which is perhaps the philosophical question par excellence.

  4. "It raises in a very poignant way the question what it means to be human, which is perhaps the philosophical question par excellence."

    Excellent point!