There is some overlap in two of the books I’m am currently reading. What I find so shocking about this is how long it took me to notice and the fact that my reactions to both are so different. The first book, which I’m listening to on my iPhone, is Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships by David Levy and the second book, which I’m actually reading also on my iPhone, is Like Clockwork: Steampunk Erotica ed by J. Blackmore. (I have not finished either book yet.)
Love and Sex with Robots is a non-fiction exploration about the development of A.I. and robotics and projections about how human will interact with them on a personal level, not solely as cold or indifferent machines, but as partners and lovers. The whole time I’m listening to this book I’ve so many thoughts bouncing around in my head at once it is almost hard to concentrate on the narrators voice. First, I’m fascinated by the discussion of what is currently being done in this area of research. Second, I keep thinking about all the examples of what he is talking about in my very limited sci/fi reading and viewing ( Data, from Star Trek / Bicentennial Man – the Robin Williams movie). Thirdly, there is this unconscious and sort of unexplainable ugh factor when the author goes from today’s reality into some future scenario of ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. My mind which is keeping up and internal monologue of ‘hey that’s neat,’ ‘I never knew that,’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ is suddenly brought to a screeching halt with a matter a fact explanation of how future parents will just pop over to a robot shop to have a spouse built for their dear baby it the futuristic incarnation of arranged marriages. Screeching halt might not be enough to cover the sort of unexplainable mental recoil going on there.
So that’s where I am, listening to this book with a mixture of scientific curious and horror. I am trying to figure out what is bothering me so much. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the sex with robots part. Sex/Porn led to advancements and or mass use of VHS, the Internet, and probably lots of other things too, so I’m told. I get that or at least think I do. It is the love and marriage bit, I think am pondering (oh and the fact that ‘arranged marriage’ is still going to be going strong in an age where people have their spouses built custom). The more I tried reasoning this out. The more sci/fi examples I remembered, but they were from TV and film. Data had his Lt. Yar and I hate Bicentennial Man because it is depressing ( and THAT is do to the fact that they die!) What literature examples did I remember? I am sure there are tons. I know people have been writing about robot and human interaction of over a hundred years. Levy even cites several examples in his book, but I can’t think of any I’ve read.
That’s when it hits me that I’m reading a collection steampunk erotica called, Like Clockwork. A collection of short stories about love and sex with or around robots. My reaction to this collection so far has been positive for the most part. The stories are steamy ( no pun intended?) and entertaining. While not every entry may be my cup of tea, I haven’t experience the same mental recoil as I have when some of the same ideas are presented in the non-fiction book. I was a little shocked to realize this, and I’ve been trying to reason it out in words for days.
Maybe I’ll have a better understanding once I finish both books. It may be just the differences in the labels. Non-fiction, even the conjecture feels more imposing then the fiction that can be enjoyed and then brushed off at will. I also wonder if my reaction would be different, if my method of consuming these books where different. One of the topics Levy discusses is attachment and relationships with devices such as computers and smart phones paving the way for this generation to be even more accepting of robots in the future. I am listening to an audio book and reading an e-book on the same device – a device that I carry around with me almost all the time and use for multiple other services as well. Do I love my iPhone? I like it a lot as a tool, but I don’t expect it to like me back. (Totally unrelated I usually assume most electronic devices hate me; then again that is probably so I don’t have to accept the blame for operator error.) How would my reactions differ if I had paper copies of both books? The only other ‘meta’ experience I had with an audio book was listening to Feed by M.T. Anderson on a portable CD player with headphones. It almost felt like having a ‘feed’ and was definitely and interesting experience.
I am looking forward to finishing both books, and I needed to get these ideas out there mid-read so that I could come back to them afterward. I am curious to know if Levy will win me over with his ideas, not that I’ve realized that these are things I’ve already accepted in works of fiction. Will the fiction go to far and weird me out as well. Maybe as an experiment I’ll check out the paper copy of Love and Sex with Robots. It wouldn’t be the first time, I’ve switched back and forth between audio and paper. Feel free to leave comments, observations, suggestions, etc.