Week 8- Technicity of Intimacy: On Robotic Partners

In all of my previous posts I have discussed other artists’ work using images. For this week, I shall discuss my own work using a found footage video I made for a different class this quarter. As discussed in our lecture, technicity is the deeply entangled relationship of technology, nature, and being human. My piece, Custom Girlfriends, uses found footage to explore the technicity of relationships and the basic human need for companionship. As you can see in my piece, using robots to fill the role of a partner is a well-covered theme in film, other youtube/vimeo productions, and even in reality.

The role of the romantic relationship has undergone serious transformation throughout the history of mankind. For a long time, romance was not even a factor in relationships because marriages were typically arranged strategically to be a marriage of resources. I recently listened to an episode of the On Being podcast by Krista Tippett titled “Love and Sex and Attachment” which addressed the current state of dating. This podcast discussed the fact that an agricultural society enforced traditional gender and community roles while industrial and capitalist societies dismantled them. While humans previously generally only looked for the quality of being able to provide, humans nowadays tend to seek a long list of emotional qualities in their partners as well because marriages are no longer simply about combining resources.

Throwing online dating into this mix further complicates the dating scene. People now have larger pools of partners to choose from affording them the chance to be more selective. There are many social media articles that lament how difficult it is to find meaningful relationships nowadays. There is even an entire notorious community of heterosexual men known as “Men Go Their Own Way” which has deemed the entire female gender incompatible for relationships.

This leads me to technicity. Online dating has clearly changed courtship, but what about the possibility of human-computer (or cyborg) relationships? How will we evolve if we can customize our partners to be the exact list of physical and emotional characteristics that we now seek? My found footage piece starts with the phenomenon of men uploading videos to youtube describing their “perfect woman”. I juxtaposed these desires with an employee discussing the customization options for Real Dolls. Real Dolls are not robots, but they are life-sized, anatomically correct silicone dolls that have been on the market for years and dozens of men have already fully transitioned to dating or marrying their dolls. There is even a feature-length film on this subject called Lars and the Real Girl starring Ryan Gosling. My project then covers an actual robot named Roxxxy True Companion which resembles a Real Doll, but comes equipped with sensors, speech, and even different modes ranging from “Frigid Farrah” to “Wild Wendy” mode. Roxxxy is not autonomous— she can not navigate space on her own, does not come equipped with computer vision, nor does she make her own decisions (which are all current challenges of designing A-life and autonomous robots as described in the Wilson text) but her current existence indicates that humans are pursuing relationships with robots. I anticipate the men of “Men Go Their Own Way” to be the early adopters once Roxxxy is fully ready for the market.

The entanglement of computing and robotics with relationships also impacts identity. The youtube stars who made videos about dating robotic women addressed the important subject of her/its ability to make sandwiches. The feature-length films Weird Science and Stepford Wives addressed the need for women to be curvaceous and subservient. Such messages can and do influence the female viewer to question her own identity. I would like to clearly state here that this theme is not limited to the female experience— there are male Real Dolls, videos of women describing their own perfect man, and social standards that men are pressured to live up to. However, for the purpose of my found footage project, there were significantly more male interpretations of what synthetic female companionship already does and will look like. Transitioning from a human-to-human romantic relationship dynamic to a human-to-robot one will be a very interesting field for those interested in studying the entanglement of technology, nature, and being human.

-Rebecca Fisher

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