by Charles Christian
House On The Borderland presents our first article by Charles Christian, which reflects on one of the trickiest questions in science fiction, “Do humans dream of electric sex?”
Sky News recently conducted a survey which found that of the 1800 polled about the role of robots in the future, nearly fifteen percent said they believed they could have a ‘fulfilling, emotional relationship’ with an android.
This is, of course, a long-established and recurring theme in science fiction literature – the robot or android who is so lifelike that the human falls in love (or lust) with them.
Philip K Dick’s 1968 story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep featuring Pris ‘the basic pleasure model’ (as the movie adaptation, Blade Runner, describes her) started the modern trend for ‘fem’ or ‘sexbots’; followed quite quickly by Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives in 1972; while Freya, in Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children (2008) provides another spin on the theme.
However, it can be traced back even further, with Lester del Rey taking the credit for the first human/female android love story, Helen O’Loy in 1938 (The title is a terrible pun on Helen of Troy and Helen of Alloy).
While E.T.A. Hoffmann (of Tales of Hoffmann fame) had a female automaton that the hero fell in love with as long ago as 1814, in his story The Sandman.
The Sky News report may only echo a long-established trope; however, it did prompt Dr Kevin Curran, of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to comment:
“Technology is evolving at a pace and scale that we’ve not seen before. It is leaving a void where society is struggling to keep up with the social and moral implications they create.
“The conjecture of humans being intimate with robots is not a new moral issue. In fact, there is already a market for ‘intimate robots’. The holy grail of porn at present is the first person POV (Point of View) Virtual reality approach and a lot of porn companies are working on prototypes using Oculus Rift and other 3D VR glasses.”
Ah! So it’s all about porn.
There’s an interesting historical coincidence here. Although the Internet has its origins (ARPANET and all that) in research and development conducted by the American military, academic institutions and tech companies in the late 1960s, it was the porn industry that first made any serious money out of the commercial exploitation of the Internet.
Today, all the heavy research and development into robotics is currently being conducted by the US military and Silicon Valley companies, but will it also be the porn industry that realises the money from androids?
There again, perhaps androids or sexbots will will turn out to share the views of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy series:
“Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cause I don’t.”
Charles Christian is a barrister turned tech journalist, as well as an author of science fiction stories and nonfiction books on folklore and local history. A lover of all things geek, he can be found on Twitter at @ChristianUncut and blogging at www.UrbanFantasist.com