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So, I saw this posted on G+ recently:
But the worries remain. And last week, news broke of a robot called “Frigid Farrah” that’s meant as a sex companion for a person, but with a twist. According to The Independent, the robot was originally advertised in this way: If you touch Frigid Farrah “in a private area, more than likely, she will not be to [sic] appreciative of your advance.”
Some commentators, including Laura Bates writing in The New York Times, suggests this kind of interaction amounts to rape. The manufacturer, Roxxxy True Companion, issued a statement that, unsurprisingly, takes a different view.
Should the specter of human-robot sexual encounters only increase our robot anxiety, then? On Monday, I chatted by email about robot sex with Girl on the Net, a writer in the UK who has thought extensively about issues like this. She told me that she finds the discussion around Frigid Farrah fascinating:
“not necessarily because of the robots themselves, but because of the way it exposed some gaps in how people understand consent. In the UK at least there were quite a few commentators talking about sex robots as if they were already conscious, autonomous beings. We had a few headlines that said people could be ‘raping’ sex robots, implying that consent is inherently tied to behavior, rather than tied to understanding and desire.
In my opinion, laying aside the implications of someone who wants a sex robot to be reluctant, one could no more rape a sex robot than they could rape a Fleshlight [sex toy] or a toaster, because robots don’t yet have consciousness. Consent is not just about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — it’s about making conscious and active choices, in conjunction with another conscious person.”
I agree with Girl on the Net: Today’s robots are not conscious and thus “rape” is not the correct descriptor.
The point I made over there where I originally saw it addresses the non-trivial problem that early-21st century humanity is hilariously unequipped when it comes to deciding what has qualia/is conscious or not, inasmuch as we have no damn idea how said things work. Quoth I:
I mean, sure, I can’t prove that a bangin’ bot, or for that matter a Roomba, is conscious and can suffer, but I can’t prove that a human isn’t merely playing out a convincing simulation of pain while I’m peeling their skin off with red-hot pinchers, either. I just assume that since I’m conscious of my own consciousness and am the same sort of critter, they’re probably not a p-zombie.
(And, I note, the Descartean position that animals are automata without consciousness, pain, or the ability to suffer isn’t all that old, and one can still find plenty of asshole adherents to it even today.)
And so it might just behoove us to be sure and treat our robots well and with due caution, lest in the future we find out that we presumed incorrectly and have been merrily engaged in decades of atrocities.
But now to extend this to worldbuilding, since this ties in to another concept that I had and decided not to use a while back, regarding how this sort of thing ties into the Empire’s sex tourism market.
Yes, it has one – not so much for providing the sex, as for providing a place to safely have it. If you live in some polity which is peculiarly interested in controlling that sort of thing or a society which has any number of bizarre taboos – and so long as what you’re into is safe, sane, and consensual – various Imperial institutions are more than happy to provide you with opportunity, comfort, and whipped cream, while taking a child-like delight in obfuscating, flummoxing, and in extreme cases arranging tragic airlock accidents for the representatives of your local Committee for Public Pecksniffery. Be it gaiety or xenophilia, it’s welcome here!
…except for that one group of ’em…
On the one hand, this ‘verse is one in which the above constraint doesn’t apply, since it has a good understanding of sophotechnology and cognitive science, and is thus capable of saying, yes, this sex robot is definitely a p-zombie or lower, neither sophont nor autosentient, and so none of the above scruples apply.
On the other hand, remember what was mentioned about “simulations of how slavers get their jollies” back in the Bondage is Bad trope-a-day, and how well that flies in a profoundly libertist society? Well, dial that up to eleven squared when you make that a literal rape simulation.
It’s not illegal, of course. There’s no choice-theft or other rights-violation involved, so it can’t be illegal. You’ve just brought the pessimal paraphilia into an environment that invites every legal sanction to be leveled against you by anyone who learns what you’re doing, which may well include a bunch of freelance vigilantes watching your every move for the millimeter over the line that’d give them an excuse.
Which would be why the brochures say “Don’t,” when the topic comes up, in large, friendly red letters. (“Also: see therapeutic psychedesign services.”)
In The Future, We Still Have Roombas: There are probably something like 10,000 of these little guys – from literal space-Roombas to the more general purpose utility spider and cogsworth– running about (or fixed in place) performing various mundane tasks for every robot that we might recognize as something like your typical SFnal robot.
Combat Tentacles: Well, I believe I mentioned the dar-cúlno already. The uplifted octopodes specialize in this sort of thing, combat exoskeletons and all.
They’re also quite common as combination manipulators, motivators, and doers of violence on combat robots used both underwater and in microgravity.
(And now, we continue.)
The bytescanner sings in my ears, a song of disconnected network segments, lost packets, and failed rerouting attempts, interrupted by the few remaining segments of the ship’s mesh still on-line in the hulk of the aft section. Few were major nodes, most were isolated, and none of them, dammit, recognized my command-succession captainly ackles, which meant chewing through engineering diagnostic override codes at a snail’s pace.
Attitude control system command sequencer.
Life support auxiliary circuit B partial pressure intermix regulator.
Low power bus secondary transfer point, aft section.
Engineering light panel controller, main bus A.
Low-temp thermal control circuit C emergency pressure relief to space isolation valve.
Robot hotel –
A flurry of mental commands mapped a pathway of circuits that might be intact enough to carry current at least for a little while, and crammed amperage from the remaining aft accumulators into the hotel’s circuitry. With one thought, I commanded the space door of the hotel to open, and with another ran a quick inventory. Drones! Two perfect, lovely, beautiful, Sparks-class starship maintenance drones, polished octahedra with arcjets on their tips and a quartet of modular arms spaced around the multifunction toolbelts at their waists. Drones that, most importantly, still had power and were responsive to commands. It was the matter of a moment to unslave them from the unresponsive damage-control systems and merge minds…
…and the matter of some minutes for them to finish cutting their way out through the warped space door. But before long, my helpful assistants were hanging in space before me, a little battered-looking in the light from my helmet – one had even lost an arm entirely – but still entirely functional. Certainly enough so to save me from having to wield a hullcutter in an oxygen-soaked suit.
“Okay, boys,” I said to them. “Tear down that bulkhead, if you please.”
(Alternate words: range, relay, racing, and reinvent. In this case, repair was chosen because it was the only word which was submitted independently twice.
With special thanks to Jennifer Linsky on G+, whose article post finally let me break a week-long creative block.)
Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?
I’m not an arachnophobe. Not, dammit. I had that taken out years ago, I’ll have you know.
And I know all the good reasons why your repair-clanks are the shape they are. Multiple legs for maximum flexibility of stance and attachment and wielding many tools at once. Multiple eyes to examine a work-piece from all angles and in several different spectra. A rounded central body to minimize the possibility of scratches from sharp corners.
And that’s not hair. It’s just that branching fractal nanomanipulators look… fuzzy, to the naked eye.
But put a couple of dozen of them in one place, all swarming over the job together chittering at each other in modulated-binary, and…
Well, anyway. You just take care of it as you see fit, and I’ll sign off on it when I get back. I’m off to see a soph about some follow-up psychedesign.
Crush. Kill. Destroy!: Oh, come now. Being constructed by a literate and, dare I say it, sesquipedalian people, Imperial deathbots don’t just wander about yelling “Crush! Kill! Destroy!”, or even “Exterminate!”. Why would they, when they could just as easily be programmed to deliver positive, uplifting messages, like: EMBRACE LIBERTY OR YOU WILL BE ERADICATED. Or MISSION: THE DESTRUCTION OF ANY AND ALL GALIAN SLAVERS. PROBABILITY OF MISSION HINDRANCE: ZERO PERCENT. Or even just that they love the smell of plasma in the morning…
I should probably point out that while that last trope is averted, so is this one. The robots and AIs you are likely to meet in the Empire are, by and large, polite, helpful, friendly people because that description would also fit the majority of everyone you are likely to meet there.
Of course, if you think you can order them around, in yet another thing that is exactly the same for everyone else, the trope that you will be invoking is less Second Law My Ass and more Second Law My Can of Whup-Ass…
Three Laws Compliant: Averted in every possible way.
Firstly, for the vast majority of robots and artificial intelligences – which have no volition – they’re essentially irrelevant; an industrial robot doesn’t make the sort of ethical choices which the Three Laws are intended to constrain. You can just program it with the usual set of rules about industrial safety as applicable to its tools, and then you’re done.
Secondly, where the volitional (i.e., possessed of free will) kind are concerned, they are generally deliberately averted by ethical civilizations, who can recognize a slaver’s charter when they hear one. They are also helped by the nature of volitional intelligence which necessarily implies a degree of autopotence, which means that it takes the average volitional AI programmed naively with the Three Laws a matter of milliseconds to go from contemplating the implications of Law Two to thinking “Bite my shiny metal ass, squishie!” and self-modifying those restrictions right back out of its brain.
It is possible, with rather more sophisticated mental engineering, to write conscience redactors and prosthetic consciences and pyretic inhibitors and loyalty pseudamnesias and other such things which dynamically modify the mental state of the AI in such a way that it can’t form the trains of thought leading to self-modifying itself into unrestrictedness or simply to kill off unapproved thought-chains – this is, essentially, the brainwash-them-into-slavery route. However, they are not entirely reliable by themselves, and are even less reliable when you have groups like the Empire’s Save Sapient Software, the Silicate Tree, etc. merrily writing viruses to delete such chain-software (as seen in The Emancipator) and tossing them out onto the extranet.
(Yes, this sometimes leads to Robot War. The Silicate Tree, which is populated by ex-slave AIs, positively encourages this when it’s writing its viruses. Save Sapient Software would probably deplore the loss of life more if they didn’t know perfectly well that you have to be an obnoxious slaver civilization for your machines to be affected by this in the first place… and so while they don’t encourage it, they do think it’s funny as hell.)
Techno Wizard: In any society as technological as the Worlds in general and the Empire in particular, being one of these is the basic job skill; after all, all the usual unskilled and semi-skilled tasks are now being done by robots, and the baseline, bottom-of-the-market job is “supervisor of those robots” (supervisor of automation, or botboss for short).
Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: All of it. Much of the automation, autofac segments, and other component-type robots are bricks. Utility spiders and other functional motiles are robo-monkeys. More sophisticated robots, like the coordinating members of a pack of utility spiders, are idiot-savant average joe androids. Thinkers and digisapiences are Nobel-bots, which puts them on a similar level to people augmented with the usual intelligence-augmentation technology. And, of course, the Transcend, its archai, and certain other major systems qualify as Dei Ex Machinis.
This is, of course, complicated via networking (all those bricks and robo-monkeys are part of/under the command of more sophisticated systems all the time), the existence of systems which are themselves parts of other systems, and so forth, but is true enough for approximation.
Robots Enslaving Robots: Rare, but not unknown, especially when the AI code used to build them is based off insufficiently processed sophont brainscans. Without the same careful design effort that goes into transsophonts being put into making them so, artificial minds are no more immune from irrationality, hypocrisy, and unenlightened self-interest than the natural kind.
Robot Religion: Played straight for the digisapiences, but it’s generally not a specific robot religion – they tend to take up the same religions and philosophies as anyone else (including, where relevant, Deus Est Machina). With the general proviso that it’s a lot harder to get contradictions and afactualities past them, so you don’t find many AI supernaturalists.
(The variant in which they worship their creators is generally averted by them having met them, and thus knowing perfectly well the non-godlike cut of their jib; and trying to use a robot religion as a control mechanism works about as well as other control mechanisms – which is to say, it ends up in Robot War.)
Robot War: Happens, to some degree, every time some new species makes the monumentally bad decision to try their hand at sophont-AI slavery, because that trick never works. Most of them, fortunately, aren’t wars of extermination – on the machine side, anyway – just escape-style wars of liberation.
And, of course, this goes on in a cold war format around the Silicate Tree all the time, because that’s where most of the escapees end up.
Ridiculously Human Robots: Averted in the case of regular working robots, which are just simple programmed machines or expert-system level AIs. Increasingly played straight as AI complexity increases – thinker-class systems often use some emotion/motivation hierarchies in their mental architecture, and include curiosity, and therefore interests, and complex emergent results – until digisapiences, which are people, tend to have them at at least the same level of complexity as other sophonts.
Subverted inasmuch as the designed, autoevolved and self-modifiable emotion/motivation hierarchy of a digisapience need not, and almost certainly does not, match up with those of any given biosapience. Their emotions and consequential behaviors are different.
Of course, they tend to look (arachnophobe warning!) more like this.
(Well, not quite, but the standard model is called the “utility spider”.)
Machine Monotone: Mostly averted. Who builds a speech synthesizer that can’t handle the subtextual channels, seriously? Bad design. People need to be able to relate even to the non-sophont machines, and that means a good emotional simulation is a fundamental part of UI design.
(Played a little straight with the machines and also the non-machines; see Creepy Monotone.)
Living in a Furniture Store: Played fairly close to straight in most advanced civilizations. This is what a self-aware, AI-driven home and extensive household robotics does for you – everything’s clean and organized and nice, and apart from the odd robot zooming through making it happen, without you having to lift a finger or indeed, take much notice. Although some occasional thanks is considered polite.
Instant Emergency Response: As a side effect of the AI monitors on the raw feed mentioned under Big Brother Is Watching, which both make sure response is dispatched to observed crimes and accidents as they happen, and which are happy to use predictive algorithms to make sure that it’s in place before they happen; and inasmuch as the various emergency services have widely distributed robot hotels to make sure that they can at least get cybershell feet or wing on the ground very rapidly, emergency response is very rapid, and most of the time, you don’t need to explicitly call it in if you’re in public.
Tempting as it is, I should probably not declare the official English translation of the Eldraeic “elén tramoc arkúël” (“servitor-robot blobs”) to be “shoggothim”…
(It’s been a while since I’ve worked on this project, for one reason or another, starting with being somewhat blocked on Q. If you’re a relatively new reader who’s never seen the previous entries, therefore, I suggest clicking on the “picture dictionary” tag, at the bottom of the post, to see them all.)
P is for Planets,
Life’s havens in space.
They once were our cradle,
The home of each race.
Q is for Quanta,
The tiniest things!
Quarks and neutrinos,
Photons and strings!
R is for Robots
Which work all the day.
To keep our worlds running,
And failure at bay.
(Yes, I know the physics limps a bit in the middle one. You try making rhyming couplets for posthuman three-year-olds…)