Because I am fast becoming a connoisseur of what some might call trashy tv, I recently watched what I’m going to call a documentary on Netflix entitled “My Sex Robot.” As one might expect, this relatively short movie explores the world of sex robots. Most of the robots that are discussed in this movie, both those that are in development and are hoped for, are meant to be robotic women. This makes it a bit difficult to be nonjudgmental of the individuals in the documentary, especially when one is a woman herself. I don’t think this reaction is specifically gendered, however, as my boyfriend, who was at my place when I declared that this is what would be on the tv while I was making dinner, also felt that the program was set up to let you judge the guys who are into sex robots. The documentary itself somewhat wanders between different people who are somehow involved in the sex robot subculture, either as hopeful consumers or as developers. Since the actual facts of the development of sex robots are fairly mundane, I will focus here mainly on my reactions to the documentary.
At least as far as is presented in the documentary, there are two main schools of sex robotics. The one that seems more prevalent is the one that focuses on creating a robot that can simulate not only a sexual partner, but an emotional one as well. I feel like this group is the stereotypical one that everyone thinks of when they think of guys who want sexbots. It’s also the group that’s the more uncomfortable for me and, I think, many people. In this group, you have men who say they want sexbots because “they can never break your heart” and that they’ll be an always-submissive partner. These wants are difficult for me to sympathize with, since at least some of them seem to be saying “I want a woman with no wants or needs outside of pleasing me.” I get that having a partner that basically doesn’t exist outside of their relationship with you isn’t a fantasy limited to sexbot enthusiasts, or to men, but making it a robot feels like taking it too far. Also, it elicits some of the same reaction I have to animatronic pets. Whenever I see animatronic pets on a tv show, I go to a place of sadness, and maybe even pity, because it isn’t real. I understand that these are probably great for some people, especially the elderly and very young who might not be equipped to take care of a real animal, but it just feels hollow. I might feel put-out that my cat isn’t particularly affectionate or cuddly, but I love him and I like that he has freewill. Ultimately, wanting someone without freewill is utterly foreign to me, and the fact that these almost always are made to look like females compounds my discomfort.
This route, however, is the most interesting on multiple fronts. It is scientifically interesting, or has the potential to be, as the desire for an emotional partner from a robot may lead to interesting applications of AI. Having a robot respond in a way that doesn’t feel, well, robotic will be an interesting challenge. This group of guys, as much as I may side-eye them, is also fascinating. While some want an artificially intelligent sex robot as a replacement for a female partner, others are in relationships or married. These men seemed to want a sexbot in addition to their partners, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. For at least one, sleeping with a robot seemed to be a fetish on the order of wanting to roleplay a specific scenario. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. I feel like someone should do a more in-depth ethnographic study of this subculture.
The other main group of people working on sex robots is one I understand better. This group, at least those on the supply-side of this group, see the issue of sexbots as an engineering problem. The one developer that they focused on in this group was into robotics and then decided that he could make a lot of money if he could make a nice sex robot (and, yes, I realize I’m saying the person I get in this doc is the one who isn’t actually part of the subculture, but it is what it is). This guy’s main focus was making a robot that could move in a realistic manner, especially when it came to hip movements. He also developed both a male and female model, which soothes my discomfort with the sex/gender issues with the notion of sexbots. This group, I more or less get. I mean, I’m not going to go out and procure a sexbot, but these are basically really elaborate versions of other items that mimic certain parts of human anatomy.
In the end, the sex robot subculture is something to which I will always be an outside observer. I find the men interested in having sexbots in addition to wives and girlfriends to be quite interesting, and I would definitely learn more about them if given the chance. The ones who want sexbots to replace women will always make me a little judgy. And those who want to make elaborate toys, I can basically understand. I don’t know if I’d exactly recommend this documentary. It won’t really change your mind about anything. It is, however, a pretty short watch and entertaining background noise while you’re doing chores.