Of Course, It All Starts with Asimov...
“People are going to be having sex with robots within five years,” says Henrik Christiansen of the European Robotics Research Network; “security, safety, and sex are the big concerns” to address in upcoming robot ethics legislation. While many in the modern robot-ethics movement champion Asimov's Laws, those don't quite cover the intricacies of potential sexual acts or relationships involving our robot kin.
And what if our fetish for robots goes unrequited? “Robots do not want to have sex with you,” says curmudgeonly author Warren Ellis. “There is no robot on Earth that wants to see a bag of meat with a small prong on the end approaching it with a can of WD-40 and a hopeful smile. And don't get me started on that terrifying hole that squeezes out more bags of meat.”
But don't let Ellis harsh your buzz; if the annals of science fiction are at all predictive, we should have at least a little consensual robot nookie coming our way soon. As we move past the cutting-edge of intelligent sex toys and into technology allowing truly interactive, intelligent sexual interactions with artificial beings, it's worth a look back at some of the fantasies and nightmares we've entertained about hot robot action.
Robot Genesis: Adam and Eve in Rossum's Vats
We get the word robot from Karel Capek's 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)—and the first robot-on-robotress love affair. Though Capek's robots were biological creations with parts grown in vats and spun on spindles, we get more than terminology from Capek: the trials and tribulations of Rossum's robots, sexual and otherwise, formed the seminal themes of robot fiction for decades to come.
Six years later, Fritz Lang brought Thea von Harbou's novel Metropolis into the silent-film world and brought its robot, Maria, to budding robophiles. Beautiful, classic, and stylistically sexualized—the Marilyn Monroe of the robot fetishist set, you might say—Maria is an arresting figure to any budding technophiliac, particularly in her capacity as an exotic dancer. As one can imagine, Lang's vision was greeted with a fair amount of cultural alarm at the time, but it turns out that robophiles have a strong nostalgic streak, and thus restored and improved versions of Metropolis can be found at your local technoporn dealer (specifically, Kino’s remastered version from 2003). Should silent film not be your thing, though, not to worry; perhaps more than any other early work, the aesthetic of Metropolis can be felt in contemporary sexed-up robot tales.
Metropolis NowBuilding upon the concept of the robot as a commercialized object of pleasure, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg's feature film A.I. introduced Gigolo Joe, a character that brought together two relatively separate audiences: robophiliacs who had always dreamed of a male robowhore and Jude Law fans who had always dreamed of ordering him around. (Okay, there may be some crossover in those two groups, but generally speaking.) Gigolo Joe represents an uneasy key concept in robot sexuality: if one can program a machine to work out what would be most pleasurable to us and provide it, is that an exciting advancement in sexual technology, or does it provide nothing more than a hollow, mechanical (pardon the pun) evening of going through the motions?
Then there's the other side of the coin, or the 0 to the 1, if you will: devoid of emotion but perfectly task-oriented, robot lovers have the creepy potential to top any mortal's Fatal Attraction scenario. The Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood brought us a smoking-hot cyborg in the appropriately-titled episode “Cyberwoman,” in which mild-mannered Ianto Jones keeps his half-human girlfriend, Lisa, in the basement. The victim of a failed “conversion” to the terrifyingly mechanical Cyberman race, Lisa maintains a distinctly artificial perspective on maintaining a relationship with Jones On the meaning of being “together,” she muses: “Transplant my brain into your body. The two of us together, fused. We'll be one complete person. Isn't that what love is?” Man. It's hard to love a girl who puts brain surgery in the prenup. (I must also recommend this episode for containing the only cyborg-vs.-pteranodon fight I am aware of in which barbecue sauce plays a major role.)
Super-Dildo Robot Killer Sex Fiend Happy Time
Cyberwomen aren't the only ones you need to worry about. In the Japanese '80s cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a fellow inserts a rusty metal pipe into his body – no, not like that, you perv; through self-surgery in a casually dirty home environment that would make Dr. House pop a few Vicodin in protest. The fellow is later killed in a car accident by a character known only as “Man,” who is subsequently haunted by pipe-in-the-thigh-dude. This is no ordinary haunting, though; instead of cold drafts and things that go bump in the night, metal and wires start growing out of Man's body. This is a great first-date flick, by the way.
Of course, as Man becomes machine, eventually Man's dick turns into a power drill. What guy hasn't had that happen? Lest I offend any delicate eyes reading this piece, well, let's just say that Man's old lady was not equipped to handle such an appendage and leave it at that. Turns out a good hard drilling isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Then, of course, there are anime's sexbots, present in everything from Ghost in the Shell to Bubble Gum Crisis to Buttobi CPU and beyond. (And if you're anything like me, you just had to re-read that last title because you thought it said “buttboi.”) The common theme here seems to be that sexbots occupy a strata of society below that of human prostitutes and are treated accordingly – and, inevitably, their uprising is violent and largely successful. Who's going to be too suspicious of a pleasurebot, anyway? (Well, except for those of us who've seen an anime or two.)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Dildos?
Around the time Tetsuo freaked out the Japanese set, pasty-faced android Lt. Cmdr. Data's one-night stand with Lt. Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation raised the eyebrows of Western robophiles. Fueled by a communicable infection resulting in “intoxication,” Yar approaches Data for sex, inquiring as to whether he is “fully functional.” Data replies, “In every way, of course. I am programmed in multiple techniques. A broad variety of pleasuring.” Cue the standard Star Trek curtains-fluttering-in-the-wind-style indication that sex occurs. (Do you ever get the feeling that a whole generation of geek children grew up to be really surprised that sex didn't involve curtains, doors closing with a whoosh, or Picard summoning them to the bridge afterward?)
The following season, while on trial to prove his sentience, Data said of his relationship with Yar, “We were...intimate.” This admission evidently warmed the heart of the (human) judge and swung Data's case, presumably causing all other androids in the Star Trek universe to go get themselves human lovers as sentience insurance.
In the later Star Trek: Voyager series, a further exploration of the sexuality of fully- or partially-inorganic life forms took place. Former Borg drone Seven of Nine, human but severely augmented as a child by the Borg's cybernetic implants to maintain a hive mind, struggled to understand human courtship rituals – which she was tutored in by The Doctor, a holographic program who fell in love with her. (Or so he said. The Doctor was also later the subject of a hearing on his rights as a sentient being, and Seven testified on his behalf – nice going with the sentience insurance, Doc.) Though Doctor's feelings were not reciprocated, Seven went on to date a simulation of a co-worker, as you do when you're a cyborg with limited social skills. Ultimately, she decided the actual co-worker worked just as well—an unusually happy ending to what feels like a 24th-century version of dating online and then finding out he truly is a 6'4”, 160-pound millionaire who likes long walks on the beach and chick flicks and is really, really into you.
The Revolution Will Not Be Humanized
What happens when it's not so easy to tell the difference between humans and robots? A lot of sex, apparently. Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner introduced the world to Rachael, a sultry “replicant” who could evidently give Data a run for his credits in bed. She displays a cool awareness of sexuality, inquiring of an intrusive question on a Turing-like test, “Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian?” Another replicant, Zhora, works as an exotic dancer (shades of Metropolis, anyone?).
The Cylons of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series also “pass” as human and enjoy vibrant sex lives, both with other Cylons and with human partners. Possessing distinct personalities, biological makeup indistinguishable from humans except at the most basic molecular levels (allowing interspecies progeny), and the capacity to experience the full range of human emotions, Cylons redefine what it is to be “robotic,” with a culture much like a modernized version of Rossom's robot histories.
Battlestar Galactica's surprising exploration of the effect of sexual trauma on Cylons echoes a brief, thought-provoking scene in “The Second Renaissance,” a short anime film presented on the Animatrix DVD, where the Wachowskis tried to explain everything they couldn't quite fit into the six hours and 43 minutes of the Matrix trilogy. In the midst of street riots, a group of men attack a young, casually-dressed woman. Their grasping hands tear the shirt from her body, exposing her breast; then a blow to her face rips the skin from her cheek, exposing the metal and wires beneath as her scream turns digital. When robots pass as human, a whole new field of sexuality and its uses (and misuses) begs to be explored.
Pornograhpic mastermind M.Christian, who routinely churns out opening lines like “I almost lost my virginity at fifteen, but his batteries ran low,” offers his own unique take on this concept in “State,” a short story about a human who takes elaborate pains to pass as a sexbot because she gets off on being treated like a machine. Fetishism goes both ways!
We're Sorry, the Robot Sex Video You've Requested Is Unavailable
“It's supposed to be like a silent robot porno movie from another planet.” This is how jack-of-all-visual-arts Michael Sullivan explains his stop-motion film-in-progress, Sex Life of Robots. Sullivan pushes the envelope right from the premise: the film explores the pornographic findings of a home computer scan, which is conducted by a robot mother...and her baby. The computer turns up graphic depictions of robot men having sex with robot animals, robot babies servicing robot adults, robot women using sex toys, robot orgies... Only Sullivan's two-minute teaser has been released, and still, if you can imagine something involving robots and sex, it's probably in there. Video hosting mogul YouTube quickly dropped the teaser, but the good pervs at WIRED.com will still hook you up with the retina-searing robot raunch.
There are no such difficulties in finding Bjork's “All Is Made Of Love” music video, a loving tale of narcissism in which two lesbots made in Bjork's image explore softcore Bjorkbot-on-Bjorkbot action. Though their faces are molded from Bjork's, their bodies are more I, Robot, all slick iPhone-white “skin” and black exposed hydraulic joints – merging the comfortable, standard theme of girl/girl with the frequently less easy one of mechanical nookie.
That's All, Ugly Bags of Mostly Water!
I hope you've enjoyed this tour through some of the trends in robot sexualities. It's a big field: if gayness is a rainbow, robophilia is the whole electromagnetic spectrum. There is, of course, a lot more out there than I could touch upon here; as much as I would like to include it all, well, I’m afraid I can't do that, Dave.