Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Sex and the AI: Queering Intimacies

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Sex and the AI: Queering Intimacies

Article excerpt

Writing recently for WIRED, Greg Miller considers the 'The Moral Hazards and Legal Conundrums of Our Robot-Filled Future' - a future in which, among other technological innovations and interventions, 'robotics is taking sex toys to a new level, and that raises some interesting issues, ranging from the appropriateness of human-robot marriages to using robots to replace prostitutes or spice up the sex lives of the elderly' (Miller n.p.). Creating an artificial intelligence to play chess is one thing; creating it for love has entirely different connotations indeed. The great chess masters who chose a computer over a human being for a game of chess only had their egos bruised when they lost to a machine. But what would happen if they lost their hearts to a robot or artificial intelligence? Why might people choose robots or other inorganic objects as 'objects' of sexual desire or intimate engagement? More broadly, how might intimacy with robots be useful? How will society judge those who enter into relationships with entities that seem to mimic consent? Might it be possible that, in the future, a robot could actually provide consent? Perhaps most capaciously put: what does our imagination of erotic engagement with robots suggest about our current relationship with technology?

Popular media offer us an opportunity to explore aspects of intimacy, such as human/robot 'relations', in a technologically saturated age. Robots have been a mainstay in many sf writers' and filmmakers' diets, forming part of the megatext of sf. From Metropolis (Lang Germany 1927) and Forbidden Planet (Wilcox US 1956) and Star Wars (Lucas US 1977) and Star Trek (US 1966-), robots and artificial intelligences have helped, challenged and even befriended humans. More recent depictions, from Blade Runner (Scott US/Hong Kong/UK 1982) to the present, most notably in the critically acclaimed films A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg US 2001), Her (Jonze US 2014) and Ex Machina (Garland UK 2015) have shown humans and their intelligent creations engaging with each other intimately, even erotically. What is at stake in such representations, and how do they track shifting conceptualisations, both of what it means to be human and how we understand our relationships with complex technologies? This essay undertakes a queer reading of the film Her as well as three digital games to explore imagined and virtual intimate relations between humans and artificial intelligences. Our particular focus is on how such imagined and virtual relations open up possibilities for understanding and enacting intimate relationality in ways that might exceed heteronormative assumptions about and practices of gender and sexuality.

Queer(ing the) AI: some theoretical and media background

Filmic representations and virtual interaction games depicting intimate interactions between humans and artificial intelligences have emerged in a cultural context increasingly invested in theorising the impact of advanced and complex technologies on human subjectivity. Our machines not only take over more and more functions once managed by humans but also surpass our abilities, intellectually and physically, and interact with us in more and more intimate ways; think of your smartphone talking to you while also communicating with a satellite and performing complicated navigational computations. Some theorists claim we are already cyborgs, so dependent on our machines that we are steadily blending with them. Andy Clark, writing in Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, argues that

next-generation human minds will not invest very heavily in the virtual/physical divide. Instead, these minds will focus on activity and engagement, seeing both the virtual and the physical as interpenetrating arenas for motion, perception and action. Mixed reality play intends to block the stale opposition between the real and the virtual, or the bodily and the informational, revealing each for what it is: just one more aspect of a larger world in which hybrid selves live, move, work, and play. …

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