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The Ontological Implications of Sex Robots

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Life truly does mirror art. Or perhaps the work of some artists is so intuitive that it borders on the prophetic. In That Hideous Strength, the third installment of his Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis has cause to mention the inhabitants of the moon, who, in his imagination, are so prudish and perverse (yes the two go together as often as not) that they refuse to have sexual relations with one another, preferring instead to sleep with “cunningly devised images.” So much for the art. Now for the real life: On August 13, the Huffington Post published a piece by columnist Harry Bradford entitled, “Soon We’ll All Be Having Sex With Robots, Maybe: Scientist.” The next day, Sebastian Anthony of Extreme Tech wrote that “By 2024, ‘sexbots will be commonplace’—which is just fine, as we’ll all be unemployed and bored thanks to robots stealing our jobs.” Both pieces draw from a Pew Research report called, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” written by Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson, issued by the Pew Research Center on August 6. It is perhaps to be expected that to our sexualized culture, the most significant findings of this six-page report have to do with the impact of robotics on modern sexuality. “Cunningly devised images” indeed. Life mirrors art, even when the art is satirical.
            On the one hand, the anticipation of the sex robot is really not surprising at all. It is the natural culmination of the sex industry’s mission of providing sex on demand. It is, in that sense, no different than that industry’s ironically fertile production of mountains of pornographic DVDs, websites, and video games. This is just one more way for our promiscuous society to sate its desires without being bothered with the pesky task of actual contact with other human beings. In that sense, nothing really will have changed with the advent of the sexbot. We needn’t ascribe more weight to this issue than it warrants. It is just one more vehicle of sexual depravity.
            While I mourn over the portrait of modern sexuality that is painted by this and similar developments, I feel that something else is at stake here as well. The creation of such sex robots is a further step down a dangerous road: not the road of artificial intelligence, per se, but the road of artificial reality. And that is its chief offense. The primary depravity illustrated by the sex robot is not sexual but ontological.
          Consider the artificial understanding of reality cultivated by this development. Stylized representations of the human form have existed for as long as human art has existed. But only in recent years has our ability to depict an artificially flawless human body been perfected. Think of renaissance art: Michelangelo’s David or da Vinci’s Mona Lisa are well-known depictions of beautiful human forms, but in both cases, one is able to escape from the dream created by the masterpieces through the ever-present reality of the medium: lifeless stone, in the case of the David and the small, square canvas in the case of the Mona Lisa. And thus it is for all such works of art. But with modern photography, lens filtering, and airbrush techniques, something has changed. Now we are able to behold seemingly genuine photographs and videos of human beings who appear to be, physically, absolutely perfect.
            We see the celebrities on the covers of the gossip magazines in the checkout line at the supermarket and our only thoughts are for how beautiful such people are and how drab the real people in our lives seem by comparison, with not a thought for the fact that it took half-a-dozen make-up artists, hundreds of shots taken with special lenses, and hours of special editing to produce those few picture of “perfect” people. But because these photographs and videos seem to be so real, we begin to believe that that is how people should really look and we forget that real people (like you and I) have warts on their toes and hair in strange places and dry skin and morning breath. In short, we are being seduced by an artificial reality.
            This ontological scam continues in the popular depictions of sexuality itself. Hollywood tells us stories about people whose love and passion for each other automatically translate into nights filled with wonderful sex which completely satisfies them. We soak up these tales and come to expect the same things ourselves, only to be disappointed when we experience times when the sex isn’t perfect and we realize that it is never ultimately satisfying.
            This atmosphere of artificial reality feeds commercialized sex. It is this desire for the unreality of the airbrushed magazine models and the effortless sex of television and movies that feeds the porn industry and ultimately leads to the creation of a sex robot.
            If our culture continues to insist on an artificial reality in which pornography masquerades as beauty and robots replace humanity and titillation and ejaculation are substituted for real sex, then what hope can there be of convincing it of the true beauty and ultimate satisfaction that is found in Jesus Christ? If it finds the pleasure of the real world to be unpleasant, what will it do when confronted with the horrors of a very real hell? We must plead with God to open the eyes of the blind. We must instruct our children to always prefer the honest imperfections of the real world to the deceitful perfections of unreality, so that when they find that physical beauty and sexuality are not ultimately satisfying they will realize that they were never meant to be, and that real satisfaction is only to be found in the Savior. The alternative is for life to mirror another great piece of literature: Charles Williams’ character, Lawrence Wentworth in his novel, Descent Into Hell. Preferring a succubus to a real woman, Wentworth gradually descends a mental rope into the recesses of a self-satisfying and self-imposed damnation.
            May the Spirit of Jesus Christ deliver us from all such.
  1. Tim Bredamus says:

    Wow! What a line – “We must instruct our children to always prefer the honest imperfections of the real world to the deceitful perfections of unreality”! Thank you for this piece. Very insightful.

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