Performance, Technology, Intimacy

Caroline Wake


In December 2015, the Guardian published an article titled “Sex, Love and Robots: Is This the End of Intimacy?” In it, author Eva Wiseman provides an overview of the field of “teledildonics,” defined as “smart sex toys connected to the internet.” While teledildonics “started life as vibrators that could be operated remotely,” the category has now expanded to include a “new generation of robotic sex dolls.” Wiseman introduces several of these, including RealDoll, Pepper, and Roxxxy as well as a “chatbot” named “Do-Much-More,” described as the offspring of “Do-A-Lot,” and a “sociobot” who is, rather unusually, unnamed. The discussion of these operational systems soon segues into a conversation about cultural representations, including the television series The Bionic Woman (1976–78) and Futurama (1999–2013), specifically the episode “I Dated a Robot” (2001). Then there are the films: Lars and the Real Girl (2007), in which Lars enjoys the companionship of a RealDoll named Bianca; Her (2013), in which Theodore Twombly falls in love with his phone’s operating system as personified by the voice of Samantha; and Ex Machina (2015) where humanoid robot Ava seduces and murders not once but twice. (If Pepper and Roxxxy didn’t alert you to the problematic operations of gender in this domain, then Ava, Bianca, and Samantha surely will!) Finally, Wiseman mentions the play The Nether, by American writer Jennifer Haley who employs the genre of the police procedural in order to explore a future where people abandon real life to spend most of their time in an online world called The Hideaway. Like Westworld, the new HBO television series based on the 1973 film by the same name, The Hideaway is both futuristic and anachronistic: virtual, violent, and Victorian.

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