Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mortal Engines: From X Box to Sexbots

When my Dad came down with leukemia last year, his brothers arrived to visit, including my rich uncle Tony from Chicago. Uncle Tony came to Minneapolis by Amtrak, traveling like a gentleman in the movies. When we had a chance to talk, he made it sound wonderful, the best scenery, the best food, a chance to think about childhood memories meeting with mortality. So I thought I’d check it out to see if Amtrak had anything going between Augusta and Atlanta. I dialed 1 800 872 7245.

“Hi! I’m Julie.” said a perky voice. “Amtrak’s automated agent.” And she ran down a list of options. After some conversation about schedules I told her I wanted to leave from Augusta Georgia.

“I think you said ‘Augusta Georgia. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Great!” said Julie, enthusiastically, all smiles in her voice. “Let’s look up schedules and fares. Ready? Let’s get started!” (oh boy oh boy – yes, lets.) What city are you departing from?”

“Augusta Georgia.”

After a pause “I’m so sorry, but we don’t have trains running from Augusta Georgia.”

She sounded genuinely disappointed for me. “Our nearest service is from Denmark South Carolina, 48 miles away. Would you like to hear those schedules?”

I was completely turned on by this fireproof Customer Service Barbie voice. “Julie?”

“Yes?”

“I want you, you hot crazy bitch. Make wild love to me. Here. Right now.”

“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

Wow. Just like the real thing.


I've had two published stories (Sometimes I don't get rejected) on the subject of sexual robots; "Mortal Engines", and a short story called "The Doll". When I'd discussed them with readers, I was always a little surprised by the scepticism I run into over the idea of cybernetic lovers. The objection being no one can imitate a human being closely enough for a person to fall in love with it. I think this is a failure of the imagination. For many reasons. I don't know if we'll see it in our lifetimes, but I believe it will happen and it will have a radical and permanent effect on relations between men and women. It will be huge.

I have many reasons for believing this, but because space is limited I'll stick with one - we will do it because it is our nature to do it.

Two reasons for now as to why it is in our nature: It is our nature to communicate. Human beings are highly sexual and it is in our nature to turn new technology in the direction of sex.

Dig:

I'm absolutely convinced Julie is the harbinger of things to come. ("Want to have sex? Great! Let's get started! Choose from the following positions. . .") For one thing, she's cheap. Cheap and manageable, clearly American, and no matter what you say to her she doesn't get mad or take offense. She's 100% on your side and exists only to please you. The artificial intelligence parses sentences, makes decisions, responds, makes more decisionsand responds again. She reminds me of why I fell in love with computers back in 1986.

The first computer I ever had was one I fished out of the garbage. It was broken. I took it apart, figured it out and fixed it. It was a DEC "Robin" and ran on the CP/M operating system. It had all the manuals, including how to program in machine language, and a box of 5 1/4 floppies, back when men were men and floppies were truly floppy. There was a disk with the word "Zork" hand written in ink. It took me two days to learn how to load it. A geek friend handed me my first techie accronym: "RTFM!" (Read The Fucking Manual). It turned out to be a game. "You are standing in front of a white house. There is a mailbox here. The mailbox is closed. I typed "Open the mailbox." The computer said "The mailbox is now open. There is a letter inside." That was the end of me. The computer and I were talking to each other. I fell hard and I've been in love with artificial intelligence ever since.

In my brave little novella (you just knew this was coming) "Mortal Engines" set in the fairly near future, Hal Jordan, lonely and angry after his wife walks out on him, is online with what might be Julie's grand daughter going through the bureaucratic customer service process of a large corporation to set up a date with a sexbot:

* * *

In the evening, listening to the country sounds outside the silent and vacant house, he thought of Nickie with her Hitachi wand. He looked at the gold lettered card under the ceramic kitten and the silence of the house seemed to suffocate him. I shouldn’t get married anymore, he thought. I can’t. Some of us aren’t cut out for it. But it’s hard to be so alone. Going to the titty bar just makes it worse. He took the card and weighed the possibilities on the other side of it.

Fuck a robot. Goddamn Arnie, that’s just weird.

No, it’s not. It’s dope. Guys screw up their lives fucking robots everyday. It’s pathetic. Okay, guys like me - so I’m pathetic. Now I just know what everybody else already knew.

He scanned the bar code with the laser scanner on the flip side of the Waldo unit. When the business contact on the other end connected, he put the call on loudspeaker. The little TFT screen showed a sharp young Middle Eastern woman in a business suit. “Galatea Turing Cybernetics. How may I direct your call?”

Hal sat down in an easy chair by the window and sighed with shame. He held the Waldo in front of his face so she could see him. He wondered if he was blushing.

“Personal Consumer Products, please.”

“Division?”

He looked at the card. “Division Code S-7-5668?”

Was she smirking at him? Goddamn her ass. She vanished, and another woman appeared. She seemed to be from northern China or so. She was also dressed sharply and seriously, but in a sheer, dark topless business suit. “Thank you for calling Galatea Turing Cybernetics Engines, personal products.”

“Nice rack.”

She smiled sweetly. “Thank you.”

“I’m not sure who I should talk to. All I have is this card.” He lifted up the card and showed it to the tiny camera on the Waldo.

“You’re reached the right node. What are you looking for?”

“Jesus.” He had dreaded this, but he’d come this far. “Listen, I was talking to a friend of mine.”

“Are you looking for an arrangement with a love-bot?”

“Well. Yeah. I guess you could say that.”

“Transactions are conducted over a secure line and are FDIC insured credit cards only. We require a fifty percent deposit on all purchases and rentals. Rentals are only consummated at designated on site locations.”

“What’s that mean?”

“You can’t take the love-bot home. Not if you’re just renting.”

“Okay.”

“What country do you live in?”

“United States.”

“State and city?”

“Oak Park, Illinois.”

She smiled. “I’ve heard it’s nice there.”

“It is.” She probably says that to everybody, he thought. I live in a goat herder’s yurt in Somalia. I hear it’s nice there.

“The closest location we have in your area is in the suburb of Bradbury Park. We have a brand new facility there offering a wide range of sexual surrogates. What did you have in mind?”

“What have you got?”

“All kinds.”

“Well. What? I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.”

She clasped her hands in front of her and gave him a sweet smile that drilled his loneliness deeper. “First we’ll arrange a deposit and then we’ll take down your specifications. Once you sign off on the specifications, the deposit will be charged to your card and is non-refundable. So, make sure this is what you want.”

“How realistic is a love bot?”

Her friendly smiled vanished. Her face hardened. For a moment, he was sure he had pissed her off and the connection was about to be dropped on him, when she reached behind both ends of her jawbone and pressed on something. She touched a spot at her hairline above her forehead and her face did a little skip and her eyes went dead. With both hands she carefully removed the dead face and held it out to him. The naked spot where her face had been was now a deep wound of soft veined, water cooled circuitry and glowing diodes beneath a delicate mesh of tiny interwoven hydraulic lines. The disembodied lips behind her outstretched fingers smiled for him.

“They’re perfect.” the lips said. “The sweetest ever.”

* * *

So you have verbal communication. The ultimate test of artficial intelligence is called the "Turing test" (now you know how I came up with the name of my sexbot company. "Galatea" is also a verbal joke. Look it up.) You can read about the Turing test in detail here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

but in a nutshell it is the degree to which a non human source can imitate a human source of communication. My other point of human beings turning technology to sex goes back as far as the Neanderthal and Cro Magnon. About 40,000 years ago during the Aurignacian period human beings began producing the first works of art, including a figurine showing a woman's large breasts and buttocks but terminating in a large erect penis.












Archaeologists speculate that this may have been the world's first dildo. Along with cave paintings of mastodon and deer, there are paintings of men and women having sexual intercourse in the woman above position. When VCR’s came out, the movie industry tried to ban them, but they were saved by the pornography industry. The reasons VHS format made Beta format extinct was because porno movies came on VHS. When the Internet came online, pornography because the cutting edge technology pushing business in cyberspace. Why would artificial intelligence be an exception?

There is an element of squick to the idea ofintimate touching with an artificial being, but this is being looked into also, with the innovation of haptic interfaces. You can read about this technology in more detail here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haptic_

technology but in a nutshell, a haptic interface enables a tactile connection between a human and another human across cyberspace. This is the ultimate safe sex. In “The Doll” I explored the idea of using haptic interfaces to have cybersex with people on the other side of the world, with the intermediary of sexbots capable of changing their personalities and bodies to match downloadable Internet programs and user profiles.

********

“HumanGrrl3? That crazy Indian girl – Chandra? Is Chandra there?”

Sarah got that far away look and then brightened again. “Yes, its Chandra. Shall I engage her haptic interface?”

“Yes, please. Mine too. Give her the Greek Wrestler. A penis size seven girth. She likes them wide.”

Sarah’s skin color changed, from golden to deep brown. The eyes went blank, the irises blackened, the lashes became thick, the breasts shrank one size, widened and then flattened slightly with large prominent brown nipples. The flat six pack abs, swelled slightly into a cute little pot belly that pressed sweetly against him. The ballerina legs shrank and thickened, the arms became shorter and softer, the torso stockier. He felt the bush of public hair under his groin thicken and the vagina tighten. The nose broadened, the lips swelled and suddenly her face lit up into a huge grin. “Babu!”

“Hi Chandra!”

****

This can cause interesting dilemmas also:

****

“I insist.,” said Sarah. “ Would you like me to bring you another partner? The man is still online. He is willing to have you ejaculate in his mouth also.”

He made a face. “No. C'mon Sarah, you know I don’t swing that way.”

“I suspect you already have.”

That was disturbing. “What, Chandra?”

“I searched HumanGrrl3’s private files while you were engaged in intercourse. She gives every indication of being an elderly business man from Mumbai who enjoys playing golf.”

*****

At the beginning of “Mortal Engines”, Hal whines to his friend Arnie “Why can’t we just marry their bodies instead?” Now don’t tell me women haven’t made this same complaint to each other about men. You know you have. It’s the most ancient human problem. People change over time. The person you are married to now isn’t who you married all those years ago. The person you think you’re in love with, turns out to be different once you get to know them. Princes turn into frogs. What if you could fix that? What if the devil wearing a lab coat, or more likely a salesman’s suit, could offer you the perfect soulmate, designed to your specifications alone? Would you do it? Could you would you?

One more scene from Mortal Engines and I’ll stop, bear with me. (I never know when I’ll get another chance to hustle like this.) So, Hal Jordan has filled out the paperwork and made his deposit and is on the way for his big evening. Riding in his automated car he reflects on a particular part of the application process:

****

The online application process had been lengthy and tedious. And a little shocking to revenants of decency he hadn’t even realized were still there.

The topless but soberly dressed Chinese woman, after reconnecting her face, had begun taking down the details of exactly the kind of machine he was hoping to stick his dick in tonight. What gender? Man? Woman? A young boy or a young girl?

A little boy? A little girl? Was she kidding with that shit? Did people do that?

Oh yes sir.

She assured him, with an indulgent smile, that such models were quite popular and a few were available this week with promotional discounts for new customers. Further discounts on young boys or young girls were available with their special membership card. Would he be interested in acquiring a membership discount card?

No thanks, lady. I’m sinking fast, he thought, but not that fast. Not yet.

A grown woman, please. Keep your little girls.

What age group? Our adult group begins from 17 years of age to precisely 70 years of age. Older than 70 would be an additional charge.

He cringed again. There was something in the woman’s artificial eyes that seemed to be testing him. You don’t have to do this, mister, she seemed to suggest, behind her saleswoman’s smile. You still have some of your soul left. It’s not too late to cut your losses.

Young. Not too young. Maybe twenty five. (Am I pathetic for wanting to do a twenty five year old?) Race of preference? Or a combination of ethnic groups?

Every man should take that quiz at least once, he thought, as he watched the fields passing by outside the tinted windows. It’s good for you. Even if you’re not trying to get your freak on with a robot, this quiz will show you some stuff you didn’t know. They should make it part of your job applications. Hell, they should make you take it if you’re getting married to somebody’s daughter.
We know what strange flesh you really want to poke your cock into, mister. You just think you know.
He had never thought of himself as a racist. He had never much been aware of the races of people he worked with. He was white, Scotch Irish and with some Mexican on his father’s side. No big deal. Gay? Lesbian? No big deal either. Common barnyard animals maybe? Go in peace my brother and sister. To each his own. But, when it was laid out right there in front of you, like dog food in a dish. When all you have to do is reach out your tentacles -

Would you like an elderly black man or an elderly Asian woman?

A little boy or a little girl?

Jesus.

Big ass and big taco tits. Like your daddy’s National Geographic. Fuck me bwana. Fuck me bwana. Fuck me bwana.

Christ.

He had settled on a combination of Scandinavian and Polynesian. Scandinavian for the familiar. Slightly dark skinned Polynesian for the exotic. Was there such a thing? Amazing. What size tits? Prepubescent? Adolescent? Athletic? Nursing mother? Or dancer? She demonstrated each size by adjusting the size of her own breasts and nipples. Dancer, oh! Definitely dancer, yes! with those big nursing nipples and whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top, please and thank you. Pubic hair? Body hair? Certainly, the more the better. Teeth?

Teeth?

There were people who preferred them without teeth.

But goddamn, Hal.

Teeth please. Yes. Definitely teeth.

They offered a wide range of sexual aggression for his personalized simulacrum pleasure. He might choose from terrified virgin (weeping and pleading) to insatiable nymphomaniac. Well, someday who knows, but for starters just something in the middle, please. Experienced but demure.

For an extra insurance charge they could throw in some bondage and strong sadomasochism in the works. No thanks. Maybe not this time. Did they offer that to the assholes who ordered the little kids too?
Oysters or snails. Chocolate or vanilla. Tacos or egg rolls. Roses or handcuffs.

“Destination arrival in five minutes.” said the smart car's voice.

****

Okay, this is getting long. Last thing. The weirdest thing. Scientists like Ray Kurzweil believe that in the near future, technology will surpass our ability to keep up with it in various fields, including the field of artificial intelligence on which sexual surrogates would be critically based. Google the word “Singularity” to read more about this concept. The brain is currently being studied and reverse engineered as the human genome was about ten years ago. Soon we will know how to reproduce and even enhance the human brain. This means at some point you have robots that are MORE intelligent that the human brain is capable of being. A robot could ignite and achieve self-aware consciousness as we know it. It could acquire complex, independent emotions, moral decision making, compassion or cruelty. The possibilities are endless. Would such a creature have shame? Personal hopes? Moral outrage? Despair? (Hal Jordan’s sexbot “Ilsa” has all these things) Legal rights? A sense of vengeance?

A fiction writer always starts from the magic words “What if . . . “

What if, robots of exquisite intelligence and emotional sensitivity were developed and mass produced? What if marriage or something like it became commonplace, between meat brain humans and cybernetic brain partners, and such marriages were even preferred over the traditional marriages? What if at some point the robots decide they may need to reign us in a little bit for the sake of the species and the world? Mankind, over a hundred years or so, may create - not a monster like Viktor Frankenstein – but instead a perfect and eternal companion as we prepare to reach out to the stars and immortality.




Fiction By C. Sanchez-Garcia
http://csanchezgarcia.blogspot.com
www.myspace.com\csanchez_garcia

11 comments:

  1. G'morning Garce. Sci-fi doesn't usually interest me but your take on it does. Is Mortal Engine available somewhere? It looks fascinating.

    Teeth? LMAO Yes, teeth please. The options are limitless, are they not?

    Thanks for the fun post.

    Jamie

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  2. I like your take on the subject, but somehow as always in discussions of AI I am taken back to the film Colossus: The Forbin Project.
    http://tinyurl.com/2pza23

    This was based on the novel Colossus
    http://tinyurl.com/dfazcv

    As long as there is a failsafe I wouldn't condemn the technology although I would be the last to adopt it. It has to be perfected to interest me.

    I've seen episodes of Real Sex showing the making and use of dolls that felt real including the genitals. I imagine if treated as an interactive sex toy it wouldn't be such a stretch, but to think of it as real requires a culture shift.

    I did go through a phaze where I wasn't sure I was real so is this all that different?

    Ray

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  3. One of the best movies I've seen is "Lars and the Real Girl". An absolutely sweet, wonderful movie with an anatomically correct doll as one of the main characters.

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  4. I love the idea of the quiz everyone should have to take once. It would be facinating to see the answers everyone gave.

    Kim Dare.

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  5. Garce,

    Yes! I loved your post. People, humanity are sexual and will find a way to achieve gratification. Science fiction literature and movies have taken the steps, all we have to do is create the hardware, software... the stuff. LOL

    I personally don't know if I could ever become attached to a 'robot' but I won't say it couldn't happen. There are just so many possibilities.

    Yup, excellent post. Thank you!

    Hugs

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  6. Hi Jamie!

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    "...Is Mortal Engines available somewhere? It looks fascinating..."

    First, let me say thank you for asking. Truly. For all I know you may be the first person to buy a copy. Having said that... excuse me a minute while I strangle myself. Promotion. Promotion. Promotion. Okay, now I feel better. Is it available? Well, yes. Now that you mention it - look over on the right and scroll down till you get to the red book cover. If you click on the link it'll bring you to Whisky Creek Press. If you do read it, I'd be very interested to hear your impressions of it.

    Thanks again!

    Garce

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  7. Hi Ray!

    I remember hearing somewhere about the Forbin project, but I don;t know anything about it. I may take it out now on Netflix to see what it is.

    The dolls you're thinking of from RealSex are called "Real Dolls. They have an internet site and there is an article on them in Slate.com called "Just Like a Woman." They're pretty amazing, but they're not cheap. $6000 last time I heard.

    Garce

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  8. Hi Betty!

    I've seen that movie at Blockbuster but never thought about it. Maybe I should check it out next time.

    Garce

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  9. Hi Kim!

    That part of the story, the quiz, was a lot of fun ro write.

    Garce

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  10. Hey Jude!

    I don;t knowif I could ever become attached to a robot either, but remember we're talking about robots on a level we have never seen. Think about this - a little over a hundred years ago the fastest form of communications was the Pony Express. Then came the telegraph. Now people are twittering in real time. Technology expands expotentially, until you reach a certain point where it becomes impossible to even keep up with. The debate in science now is how much of our identity or personality is caused by chemicals and brain wiring. To the extent we can imitate that and reverse engineer that, we may be able to create robots that are as human as anyone. Maybe even more.

    Garce

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  11. Hi, Garce,

    Well, I bought a copy of Mortal Engines, to send to a good friend of mine in California. (He really liked it!)

    I enjoyed the chance to re-read the excerpts from "Mortal Engines" and "The Doll", though I've read both of them more than once. M.Christian has a tag line, something about "intelligence with an erection". It could certainly apply to your writing.

    However, I somehow don't get the attraction of sex bots. I suspect that it has something to do with being a guy and being rejected by women, or at least not being able to get women to do what you want, or not being able to understand or communicate with them effectively. Like Hal's frustration that you so effectively convey, regarding his wife.

    When I first became sexually active, I was amazed at how grateful my partners seemed to be. I got the feeling that they'd all been with women who really didn't enjoy sex - and who took that fact out on them. The fantasy of the sex bot is the woman with whom you can communicate, but who won't refuse you anything. If you had a real woman, who enjoyed your company and wanted to have sex with you, indulge in whatever experiments you wanted, would you still find the idea a sex bot appealing?

    In Susie Bright's new collection, "X: The Erotic Treasury", which I review next month in Erotica Revealed, there's a great story called "Wish Girls". A young man found a magical object when he was in his teens (the story is artfully vague about this) and wished for two young women who would be his inexhaustible sex partners. As the story opens, though, he's starting to realize the limitations of his fantasy to truly satisfy him. There's nothing unexpected, no imagination.

    I can't imagine wanting a lover who did everything that I wanted, but who never had an original idea of his own.

    There's another great story on this theme, "State" by M. Christian. The protagonist is a human woman who pretends to be a Japanese sex robot - because that's what the clients want.

    Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Garce!

    Hugs,
    Lisabet

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