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Clankin' Around with Love

Updated at the bottom:

coin operated boy
he may not be real
experienced with girls
but I know he feels like a boy should feel
isn’t that the point
that is why I want a
coin operated boy
with his pretty coin operated voice
saying that he loves me that he’s thinking of me
straight and to the point
that is why I want
a coin operated boy.
–The Dresden Dolls “Coin Operated Boy”

According to David Levy, somewhere in the not so distant future, we will be entering into functionally infertile relationships with robots and loving it. I’m not writing this to mock it, but rather to express my grave discomfort with having something along the line of Steven Spielberg’s AI reenacted in my living room (yes, that was a child, but still, robots, love, relationships). Levy’s PhD work states that “robots will become so human-like in appearance, function, and personality that many people will fall in love with them, have sex with them, and even marry them.”

He’s probably not that far off. I can tick off numerous occasions that I’ve become emotionally attached to inanimate objects and I would think the pull would be that much greater with something that looked and reacted like a human. Think about how emotional people get from the death of their gigapet. It’s not hard to see the jump from considering robots simply plastic and computer chips to relating to them like a spouse. Especially when that spouse fulfills a deep emotional need as the boy does in AI.

What I haven’t seen discussed yet is this idea of functional infertility and what will be done about it and how treatments will be perceived in light of robot marriage. There are two forms of infertility–functional and biological. Both share the same emotions and needs, but I don’t think they (for the most part) are treated equally by clinics at large. I am speaking broadly about reproductive endocrinologists, relying somewhat on the famous Mother Jones survey from last year that found that 48% of clinic directors said “they were very or extremely likely to turn away a gay couple seeking a surrogate” and 20% would “turn away a single woman.”

Functional infertility is the necessity for assisted reproduction in order to reproduce. The category is large encompassing gay men and lesbians, transgendered men and women, and single men and women. There are also those who have had vasectomies and spinal cord injuries and chemotherapy-induced sterility. And now, it is also going to encompass those who marry robots.

Because I have to imagine that marriage will still work in the same way since the same human emotions that lead people to human marriages now will lead people to robot marriages later. People will want commitment and monogamy. Those who wouldn’t have affairs on human partners will most likely (I’m assuming here since we’re not marrying robots yet) not have affairs on robot partners. Which begs the question–how will they reproduce so that the robot can become a mum or dad to a child? Will they be programmed to never want to reproduce? Entirely possible. But since we can’t program humans, how will we control that impulse?

Will fertility treatments become widely accepted and understood as more people need them because they’ve entered into functional infertility?

Your thoughts?

Until comments started coming in, the only situation I had considered was one of functional infertility. Meaning, because a person and a robot cannot create a child, donor gametes or a surrogate would have to be used or adoption would have to be pursued in order to become parents–the same options open right now to a wide-range of people who are being discriminated against at some fertility clinics. I think the mourning would still take place–a person is in love and cannot create a child without assistance–but I wonder how the world at large would look at fertility treatments if they became commonplace because so many people were marrying robots and now needing them. Or if the discrimination would still exist.


1 Dianne/Flutter { 01.30.08 at 12:31 pm }

Have you ever seen Millenium Man with Robin Williams? I think you would like it, and in it he marries a human.

Not sure how to answer your question, but it is an interesting one. Heck, if life inmitates the movie, they would definitely come up with a solution. (It probably would involve some type of transplantation.) But, I’d like to think there would be a solution of sorts.

Sadly, I think they (the couple) would still be grieving some pre-conceived notion of what should have been. Just like the rest of us.

2 JJ { 01.30.08 at 12:36 pm }

*uggg comment got erased!!*

My first thought is to agree with Dianne–I feel that being human and being able to grieve is engraved in our DNA-do we view it as a privilege or a curse?

I worry about IF treatments becoming more accepted for the fact that I fear that if a person who has not become pregnant in lets say 3 months of trying, will seek out an RE to “make it happen” because it will be viewed as the “easy way out…”

3 Kathy V { 01.30.08 at 12:38 pm }

Very interesting post. This also brings up other points. It sounds from the post (and I could be wrong) that human females would marry robots. But I guess it would be a question for male humans marrying female robots also. If we as humans have a hard enough time getting pregnant and carrying to term what would have to happen for a robot to carry a baby. Would that even be possible? I would assume that treatments for infertility would become more accepted. But unless robots would start carrying babies, then a child between that union would be a robot or a child. If it is a robot, would you just be able to go pick one up at the store or would you still have to go through an adoption process. Would youjust tell them to make one and then if so could you determine what it looked like? Could you send it back for repairs if it malfuntioned or needed reprogramming? Could you really love a robot child? If it was human, then I see a whole bunch of other problems. I could almost see a whole bunch of human females giving birth for the sole purpose of adoption. So would everybody be “forced to adopt” then? I am not saying adoption is wrong by any means but wouldn’t it be just like picking the robot child up at the store then? Would supply and demand equal? Would it just be all about the continuing of a species or would it really be about wanting to parent a child (whether through one’s own pregnancy or adoption)? Because if your spouse is a robot, how much emotion can be involved? Is there real thought in it or just mechanical movements? The whole idea of this post really makes my head spin. I have to think about this some more. If I come up with other thoughts, I will come back.

4 Dianne/Flutter { 01.30.08 at 1:15 pm }

Ah, I see your question. Interesting. I think the judgements and discrimination would be still the same. If not worse.

The right to life groups, can a robot be part of humanity?, etc. It would open a whole can of worms. Unfortuantly, I don’t think it would be accepted.

But, it may make life easier for the examples you provided. Since, they would be considered “human.” A step higher than a robot.

Goodness, you should watch the movie. Truly, it provides an interesting prespective in how humans viewed the robots. First as their property to serve them, and eventually denying them their evolution.

A very interesting prespective.

5 Fertilize Me { 01.30.08 at 1:17 pm }

My mind is racing with all sorts of scenarios. My Husband and I beleived my RE to be a homosexual robot. Therefore I bet he would be part of the Levy study and would conduct different types of procedures. Interesting article

6 Jess { 01.30.08 at 1:39 pm }

My thoughts are that this is really really really strange. And that I don’t want people marrying robots. Too much for this chick.

Perhaps they would make robot babies and they’d come from wherever the robots came from? Or maybe a few robot babies, and maybe some surrogate/donor babies…sort of a blended family?

Or hopefully none of this will happen and people who want to marry will marry each other and keep it within the species?

7 Josh { 01.30.08 at 1:45 pm }

I’m just glad my musical taste is having some impact on the blog…

8 Carole { 01.30.08 at 3:13 pm }

Wow. That is really a tough one. Unfortunately I think discrimination will always exist. You’ll have those that say no one should marry a robot in the first place. That makes my heart sad to think of so many couples being discriminated against. Not necessarily robot couples…but all couples who seek to have a child no matter what their life circumstances or challenges are.

If I marry a robot I want one that cleans the house without being asked. 😉

9 Denise { 01.30.08 at 3:41 pm }

This does sound like fodder for a very interesting book. Very thought provoking. I would buy it.

10 Meghan { 01.30.08 at 5:38 pm }

Very interesting post. My first thought is humans shouldn’t marry robots. But that’s just because I know nothing of the topic and have no experience with it. I stand by my beliefs that every person should be able to marry whomever they choose…whether that be man, woman, or robot. So I guess, if I follow my own logic, they should most definitely be able to have children together.

Very nice thought provoking post

11 MLO { 01.30.08 at 6:51 pm }

There are literally dozens of books in the science fiction and manga section that deal with this. One of the most well done is an anime series called The Ghost In the Machine.

This guy just took a bunch of speculative fiction from the last 30 years and wrote a futurist book. It isn’t original at all.

There is even a whole subgenre about earth’s humans being the most promiscuous beings in the universe (think Dr. Who & Torchwood for recent examples). Somehow, we have managed to find ways to reproduce with artificial life forms. Crest of Stars is an anime where the rulers of the largest empire in the galaxy were all human/machine hybrids.

I recall discussing this very issue 10 years ago at a Science Fiction Convention. Yes, I am a geek. Really, there is tons and tons of fiction out there about this.

The most recent of these tend to be available as Japanese anime, so if you want to have an interesting philosophical conversation after watching TV, go check out some of Ghost In The Machine (series, not movie).

These days in the spec. fiction writing available no one even blinks an eye at the concept. Of course, we in the SF community are still waiting for artificial wombs. (Seriously, for a great and positive representation of reprotech, read Lois McMasters-Bujold Miles Vorkosigan series.)

Sorry if I’m a little snarky, but I hate when an entire genre is ignored because one of the academentians suddenly writes about it.

12 D. { 01.30.08 at 9:40 pm }

I’d like to believe that IF treatments will become more accepted, no matter what the future holds – robots or no robots, but deep down I’m quite skeptical about that. I’ve recently had a painful conversation with a friend – a conversation that made me realize the enormous gap that exists between people who experience infertility and those who don’t (but who nevertheless think they understand perfectly). This friend is one of the very few people who know about the treatments my husband and I have been going through. She is a mother herself (got pregnant the first month she tried) and we’re close enough that I felt comfortable sharing my story with her. She has been extremely and genuinely supportive, and I’ve been very grateful for that. But in a recent conversation she shocked me by going on and on about all those career women who wait to have kids until they’re in their 40s and then they need fertility treatments. She argued that ivf should be banned for those (‘selfish’) women. She quickly and brightly noted that this of course does not apply to me (I’m in my early 30s; she’s in her mid 20s). And this from a woman who is extremely well educated and who is a mother herself. I was in shock. Later it dawned on me that even those people who seem to be extraordinarily supportive of us individually may in fact be opposed to IF treatment in general terms.
I’m sorry – this has absolutely nothing to do with robots, but your question about whether IF treatments will become more accepted in the future reminded me of this very painful recent episode. I’m afraid at the moment I’ve lost all hope on this front.

13 hoping4baby { 01.30.08 at 10:18 pm }

The robot thing is a little freaky. I definitely cried at all those type of movies – I am a crier and very emotional. However, I never thought of it as being real – the emotional part anyway. But I totally agree with PP of how we do get attached to non-living things – I am a pack rat b/c I seem to have a connection with everything – cards, kids drawings from camp, etc. DH hates it. Anyway, robots or not, I am afraid there will always be those against fertility in general and for specific groups. It is sad but our society is riddled with discrimination all b/c those people do not take the time to try to understand what others may go through or even just come to the realization that their experiences may not be only way to answer a problem. Good post and discussion starter – it makes me think! Thanks!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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