Sunday, June 15, 2008

Forty Years From Now (by Phila)

"Do you love me? Do you love me, Olympia? Say but that word. Do you love me?" Nathaniel whispered, but as she rose to her feet Olympia sighed only: "Ah, ah!"

"Yes, my glorious star of love." Nathaniel said, "you have arisen upon my heart and you will illumine and transfigure my heart always."

"Ah, ah!" Olympia repeated, moving away.

--E.T.A. Hoffman, "The Sandman" (1816)
Artificial-intelligence theorists are providing plenty of material, lately, for Glenn Reynolds' wet dreams:
Romantic human-robot relationships are no longer the stuff of science fiction -- researchers expect them to become reality within four decades.
I'm not sure why something that's expected "to become reality" within forty years wouldn't count as science fiction, but that brainteaser is child's play compared to what comes next.
"I am talking about loving relationships about 40 years from now," David Levy, author of the book "Love + sex with robots", told AFP at an international conference held last week at the University of Maastricht in the south-east of the country.

"... when there are robots that have also emotions, personality, consciousness. They can talk to you, they can make you laugh. They can ... say they love you just like a human would say 'I love you', and say it as though they mean it ....

"You want your robot to be able to talk to you about what is interesting to you."
Forty years may seem like an awfully long time to have to wait for a robotic sex partner whose avowals of undying love will strike you as plausible, and who'll be able to have intelligent -- but not too intelligent -- conversations about Atlas Shrugged when its amazingly life-like tongue isn't slathering your asshole with artificial saliva. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain a horny robot with a bottomless appetite for his loudmouthed banalities, and lose his ability to get it up?

Don't be downhearted, though. You have to remember that the Singularity is Near. If Ray Kurzweil's modest dreams come true, the middle-aged among us will meet our robotic partners more than halfway by then, and should be able to indulge in downright Heinleinian bouts of redundant sex and speechifying. God willing, we'll finally force our entry into that Pornotopia whose proud minarets and moist cul-de-sacs Steven Marcus surveyed from afar:
All men in it are always and infinitely potent, all women fecundate with lust and flow inexhaustibly with sap or juice or both....
And even if the old flesh remains weak, these machines of loving grace can simply be programmed to react to the feeble fumblings and thrustings of 90-year-old transhumanists with volcanic exclamations out of Victorian porn ("Ah, my dear Mr. Reynolds! I have spent thrice, and am altogether vanquished! Please do be so good as to expound further upon Plessy vs. Ferguson, whilst I luxuriate a while in love's sweet lethargy.")

Whether you love this idea or hate it, you've gotta love it; there's no use standing in the way of Progress. This is the next stage of evolution, in which earlier patterns of domination, exploitation, and self-defeat will be naturalized and eternalized, and the messier and more disquieting aspects of "freedom" will be mitigated by a new race of sexually malleable beings that's happy just the way it is.

Long live the New Flesh!