Worldbuilding: Nonconsensual Robot Sex

So, I saw this posted on G+ recently:

What’s New In The World Of Robot Sex?

Relevant excerpt:

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.”)


Trope-a-Day: Fantastic Arousal

Fantastic Arousal: As I may have mentioned before, not everyone keeps their genitalia in the same place, and likewise, not everyone keeps their erogenous zones in the same place. (Or even in the same plane of reality. Like, say, AIs with unusual cognitive maps whose erogenous “zones” include things like n-dimensional geometric figures, but only if they include ratios of Mersenne primes.)

There is also the matter that they aren’t all sensitive to the same things, too. For example, those engaging in interspecies relationships with the kaeth, whose thick, multilayered skin contains an awful lot of metal – especially where the dorsal plates are concerned – and are not themselves members of remarkably kinesthetic species may well be advised to bring some power tools to the bedroom.

And, um… use protection.

Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Sexes

Bizarre Alien Sexes: While the eldrae started out with the standard two (male, female), biotechnology has since added two more to their repertoire (neuter, hermaphrodite). And the standard taxonomy of sexes in their language, which has to cope with other species, includes two more – the most common mappings of other-species sexuality (prenuptial catalyst, postnuptial catalyst). And the language allows for an arbitrary number of other gender affices, because while most species can fit into that six-gender system, usually having no more than four and the mode being two, the one-to-couple-of-dozen-variants spread in how species divide into sexes means that… well. Yeah.


Querying today’s new catalog entries in category:erotica; displaying (8) highest-rated results:

Meiose With Me
An esseli bioengineer rediscovers the wonders of sexual reproduction.

Naked Singularity: When Particles Collide
Those naughty, naughty particles.

Prompt Criticality IV
Further unbounded lust among the orgiasts of the Atomic Age.

Ricatra Today: Vol. CCXLVII
The galaxy’s finest xenophilia.

Thrusters Firing! 2: Engage the Retro-Rockets
The microgravity adventures continue.

Tunnels of Love
In the mines of the Mohorovicic, the passion runs as hot as the magma!

Warm, Sticky and Moist
Hilarity ensues when virtual lovers meet in the flesh for the first time.

You Spin Me Around
Erotic-comedy star Lalíríë Celestial discovers the Coriolis effect.



Trope-a-Day: Zero-G Spot

Zero-G Spot: If there’s a couple anywhere in the Empire that hasn’t, ah, joined the 100 Mile High Club, it’s because they haven’t yet finished treatment for a case of galloping cosmophobia. Sure, there were some special requirements to figure out w.r.t. anatomical docking maneuvers (mostly involving conservation of momentum), but that’s why they did science to it.

As for celestial polyamory, insert your own three-body problem joke here.

Trope-a-Day: Sex By Proxy

Sex By Proxy: The slinky (i.e., recorded full-sensory and emotional data) erotica market.  Also, possible by techlepathy (see: Psychic Powers) if you have the consent of the people you’d be eavesdropping on.

Also, in a more friendship/romance-oriented way than strictly sexual, a consequence of the metamind feedback system mentioned in Touched By Vorlons, and, relevantly, Angel Unaware.  If a lot of people like you (or one person’s liking, or indeed love, is particularly intense), this feeds back into the metamind’s opinion of you, which in turn feeds back into individual’s opinions of you… which then leads to people liking, or at the very least being predisposed to like, you even if they’ve never actually met you personally. As A Miracle of Science puts it, “Brazil has decided you’re cute.

Trope-a-Day: Naughty Tentacles

Naughty Tentacles (since removed from TV Tropes, but I think we all know what this one is about, yes?): Given that there are species with tentacles, and Boldly Coming is in effect, this does happen (consensually). However, no-one out there would understand why humans in general and the Japanese in particular are so obsessed with it, nor would those involved appreciate the interest in their sex lives.

Trope-a-Day: Moral Guardians

Moral Guardians: There are, of course, no official Moral Guardians in the Empire.  It covers that right there in the Imperial Charter:

“Access to information shall not be abridged by the Empire, or by any instrumentality thereof, save to the least extent required for the public safety; nor shall the freedom of research and inquiry; nor shall the freedom of speech, nor that of the press, save when such information or speech constitutes, in whole or in part, infectious or self-executing code;”

Unofficially, there are plenty of groups which, while powerless to censor, are more than happy to act this way in a hortatory sense.  And while they don’t generally care about sex (except for insufficiently aesthetically and hedonically pleasing sexual content [see: It’s Not Porn, It’s Art] – yes, this is the country in which the Moral Guardians will encourage people to boycott your pornography because it doesn’t look like the participants are having enough fun) and violence (although the market looks poorly on one-sided gorn, which hurts the sales of the horror genre), the more mainstream examples of the type have successfully purged reality television (and other media), gross-out humor, gratuitous ugliness and vulgarity (because orgies and slaughter are fine, but bad taste is just unforgivable – Values Dissonance, don’ch’know?), stupidity-themed comedy (stupidity being every bit as awful as bad taste), and other such approving cacopraxia from the Imperial media memespace.  It helped, of course, that there wasn’t all that much there to start with, most of the material in question bouncing right off the cultural blinders.

Trope-a-Day: Mental Affair

Mental Affair: Fairly common, or at least the “virtual reality” kind is; species generally don’t come equipped with the necessary hardware to do this sort of thing naturally.  Popular for a variety of reasons, including obviating distance, permitting all kinds of things from, well, extra stamina to Power Perversion Potential that the material world has, ah, trouble with, and – for those having sex outside their species – making Boldly Coming work for couples who don’t share the same atmospheric composition, pressure, and temperature requirements, or have other similarly extreme physical incompatibilities.

Trope-a-Day: It’s Not Porn, It’s Art

It’s Not Porn, It’s Art: While not a legal distinction – for obvious reasons – the important distinction between the socially acceptable (and indeed regarded as something of an art form) erotica and the socially unacceptable pornography is that the former requires (a) appealing characters, (b) some semblance of a plot, and perhaps most importantly (c) that a jolly good time be had by all involved.

(Yes, this disqualifies about 95% of the Earth material about which the question might be asked.)

Trope-a-Day: The Internet Is For Porn

The Internet Is For Porn: No, no, no.  The Empire’s cultural values see to that.  The Internet is for really awfully high-class erotic literature, watchvids, InVids, slinkies, and other media.

Now, the galactic extranet, a lot of that is for porn.  Or at least you think it’s porn – translation difficulties being what they are, and given the number of species and therefore possible combinations out there.  In any case, if you’re extending your porn search to the extranet, be careful of your filters, lest you find yourself curling up into a little ball on the floor and muttering “My gods, the ovipositor!” over and over again.  Verb. sap., eh?

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Bisexuality

Immortality Bisexuality: Might look that way (well, not for the galari, who have no concept of sex, or sex, or gender), but it’s actually the result of desire control, etc., as listed under Bi The Way and Everyone Is Bi.  The rest of the immortals weren’t inclined this way until the tech came along to make it so.

(And, to be clear, in many civilized areas such outcomes are desirable. Preferences are one thing, but instincts that contradict your conscious desires on this point are inhibiting your freedom of choice, and as such are instincts that need to be told to shut up and sit down.)

Trope-a-Day: The Immodest Orgasm

The Immodest Orgasm: While this is unlikely to ever appear on screen… well, despite not being quite the hedonists the Culture are – having a few other things to do other than amuse the Minds – they do have access to high levels of biotechnology, and believe in excellence in all things. How do you see this going – in the light of Power Perversion Potential?

(In the days of small, early space habitats… well, it was quite handy that glassboard – a standardized space internal construction material that’s basically foamed quartz inside an aluminum sandwich, to make use of extremely common elements – is a good insulator of sound.)

Trope-a-Day: High Class Call Girl

High Class Call Girl: Absolutely all of them (see: Platonic Prostitution – but this applies even outside that market segment, say with the Eldinimieuthunimis offworld – Band of Brothels, and Unproblematic Prostitution).  Given the local cultural attitudes, no-one is interested in servicing the hypothetical low end (at least in the Empire, those same cultural attitudes kill the demand side down here, too) of the market.

Trope-a-Day: Unproblematic Prostitution

Unproblematic Prostitution: Played absolutely straight in the Empire for all seven of the listed common elements – and mostly straight in those offworld locations the Eldinimieuthunimis is operating in the negotiable affection business and enforcing their cultural prejudices with a will – but it is to be noted that this is very much a product of local cultural prejudices, including but not limited to the lack of our wacky hangups about sex in either direction, intense respect for the perquisites of one’s fellow sophs, that pure/direct sex sales represent a small market segment (see: Platonic Prostitution), great respect for professionalism (see: High Class Call Girl), and the local nonexistence of our creepy primate dominance kink.

Elsewhere, your mileage varies greatly, from places that are prepared to be just as self-consciously civilized about it, to places where it is as problematic as it is on Earth (including the really unpleasant bits, like drug addiction as a control technique and sophont trafficking), to places where it is considerably more problematic.  As ever, the Cultural Clash abounds.

Trope-a-Day: Gendercide

Gendercide: Happened, incompletely (two-thirds of the female population killed), to the shan kari, when their learning robots generalized their anti-self-replication police-code to things that weren’t robots, and therefore concluded that it was necessary to wipe out the female of the species due to their built-in factories for making more of themselves.

Today, the Shan Kari Confederacy is known for its skewed sex ratio, its extensive use of forced-growth cloning, and its extreme hostility towards robotic technology and digital sophonts.

Trope-a-Day: Gender is No Object

Gender Is No Object: Played almost straight with the eldrae, due to any and all of: lesser sexual dimorphism; population demographics that made it impractical to waste much of the capacity of half the population – at least if one didn’t want to get one’s ass kicked by one’s neighbors with a less bizarre approach to sophont resources; other consequences of low birth rate; and the even distribution of mental strength and in particular qalasír which would render trying to enforce such a thing highly unwise. ‘Cause she’ll/he’ll kill you with her/his brain.

(Note: that’s not a comparison of women to men, but eldrae to humans.  We’re willing to put up with a lot more bullshit, as individuals and as a species – hell, it’s right there in the brain architecture differences – than they are before doing anything about it.  This plays out in any number of ways, in their social context – it just happens that one of them is that were some benighted sod, in the rough-and-tumble days of yore before current civilization, to have come up with a doctrine of male supremacy, he undoubtedly would have acquired a blade in the gullet from the first woman who understood what he was driving at.  Which is almost certainly sufficient to explain why no such thing ever made it into the historical record.

The gender-flipped reverse, naturally, also applies.)

Of course, that is almost straight.  A few professions are gender-imbalanced, mostly for various historical reasons, although occasionally for physiological – the legions are 2:1 male-heavy and the navy 3:2 female-heavy, for example, if we eliminate the herms and neuters and other from consideration – but every profession – yes, including all those ones we hang stereotypes off of – has all genders represented, and generally accepts and treats them all without distinction.

Of course, it’s all rendered even more meaningless in the modern era, seeing as changing sex is something that’s not merely easy, it’s something that’s widely practiced, even just out of curiosity, so it’s not like those gender ratios are made up of the same people all the time anyway.

(And yes, all the ‘freshers are unisex.  But then, they’re also not shared.  That’s barbaric.)

Trope-a-Day: Gender Blender Name

Gender Blender Name: There weren’t all that many of these in historical times, but in the modern era, there are a great many – or at least, names adjusted such that you can change their gender with a tiny flip of the ending syllable(s).  After all, with gender changing becoming such a trivial exercise in the modern era… well, just because you’re going to be a different gender this year doesn’t mean you want to change your entire identity, amirite?

Trope-a-Day: Gender Bender

Gender Bender: Fairly trivial to achieve with Empire-level biotech, whether done by growing an opposite-sex bioshell (or, y’know, other sex; it’s not like hermaphrodite and neuter haven’t been invented, and not every species uses the same sexes anyway) and mindcasting into it, or if one is of one of the clades that has the facility built in (hermaphromorphs).

Also, not exactly uncommon. It’s distributed much like the Kinsey scale mentioned in Bi The Way; while there are at one end of the notional scale people who have one preferred sex they use all the time, and at the other end of the scale people who change sex about as often as they change pants, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle and are mostly/but sometimes. Certainly, it would be very unwise to assume that the person one’s talking to had always been the same sex, even if only just to see what it’s like.

(ObControversy: Gender-identity-wise, the processes use involve rewriting the subconscious – but not the conscious – aspects such that one feels comfortable in one’s new body. After all, it would rather suck having to figure out how these new organs work and what they’re telling you, or having to relearn how to walk ’cause your hips don’t work that way any more, etc.

*Here*, some people would undoubtedly suggest using that to “cure” transsexuals, rather than the equally possible “so, change your sex to what you feel it ought to be, already” option.

*There* – well, a people who worship with fluency, fervor and zeal at the altar of self-identity and personal autonomy aren’t, obviously, going to have any truck with that idea. And, if asked for an opinion, would tell people to go with whichever option they felt best represented their own concept of themselves, because who you want to be is your own damn business, other people’s narrow views and naturalistic fallacies be damned. [In practice, I suspect that usually means the latter option.]

And on an authorial note, I find it preferable to depict a society that refrains from being assholes even when the technological option exists rather than ensure that the option doesn’t exist because many-real-Earth-humans would be assholes with it. YMMV, but mine feels no need to project monkey-brain phenomena on the rest of the universe. It has its own.

Here endeth the speechifying.)