Infinite Machines: 2 – Plasticized Erotica

Today, the sexbot industry gives men the inverse of what Barbie gives girls: a sense of control over the opposite sex.

Upgrade her to suit your needs. Mostly docile. Never late. She’s yours to keep.

This industry isn’t particularly anti-woman, but does reveal an enthusiasm for male freedom through decreased interdependence from the emotional needs of women.

This begs the question: how does the value of synthetic life influence social norms toward natural life? Turns out, it’s complicated.

  • Sexbots aren’t sentient, therefore have no dignity to uphold.
  • They give power, but can’t be genuinely influenced.
  • Pornographic pleasures, but no intimacy.
  • Control, but no consent.

I could continue, but when examining what’s lost in this emergent future, it seems male users will be inevitably forced to reconcile their desires with real women, legal systems, and the broader public. Individuals are escalating concerns and regulation, and rightfully so. The female body has been objectified and stripped of sexual freedom across nearly every aspect of humanity. In an era where ‘consent’ is still ambiguous from the streets to the sheets, should we further empower men who choose not to practice it?

Whether sexbots could be used for radical autonomy is an interesting question. VR is being used to treat PTSD, anxiety, and facilitate sex therapy. Consider for a moment if sexbots took a similar path.

  • Less rape in prisons.
  • Interactive consent lessons in classrooms.
  • Men on campuses knowing how to ask for what they want at the end of the night.
  • In homes, sexbots might reduce sexual tension that’s often tangled with the economic aspects of marriages.

In the near future, women will continually be expected, unfortunately, to owe their bodies to men. But perhaps with the right intervention, sexbots can absorb ignorant and toxic mistakes; helping re-distribute power to design a world of social equality between sexes.

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About James Vanié

James is a writer and design strategist. Tweets at @jamesvanie.


  1. ThrowawayFarmer says

    Gender politics on Ribbonfarm?! What is the world coming to?

    Joke aside, I don’t see where you’re coming from on this. In particular the statement “In the near future, women will continually be expected, unfortunately, to owe their bodies to men.”

    This doesn’t seem to reflect any socio-cultural or practical consensus that I am privy to (and thank Cthulhu for that), at least in the developed world. I don’t even think a significant fraction of conservatives would agree.

    I would largely throw out your case by pointing out that people probably said similar things about porn (at all stages of its evolution, from print to pictures to movies to high-speed at-home delivery), and while I don’t have the number, I would wager the number of offenses has kept declining over each of the involved periods. You point out the example of VR yourself.

    It has also been shown again (and again (and again (and again))) that people can actually make the separation between reality in fiction, whether in film, video games or VR. Do we have to bring up the same issue each time?

    I know this is not your main point, and that my intervention is a bit tired and quite boring — but frankly, so is this premise. I apologize for being all cranky, but I hope magical thinking does not mean making stuff up about the world we live in.

  2. Pervy anon says

    One thing to note is that, barring a resurgence of authoritarianism, we can expect them to develop alongside expanding cultural liberalism and further breakdown of gender roles (automation will obviously play a role here)
    I expect to see us moving into weird hentai shit in the coming decades as norms change and our morphological freedom expands

  3. Maleness as a sick and evil, a male-volent force which can be fooled and distracted with toys and surrogates. If it works it will unmask rhe big devil as lots of stupid petty devils whose instances are innumerable. Should ‘constructing magics’ really be that easy? Perhaps, if it is policed well enough and guarded by exorcists, therapists, technologists and so on, but this still follows a bourgeois view of the world, one which leaves space for privacy and secrecy, for an evil gaze which stares woman on the butt. Even better, if the volkstribunal is always with you, if all your life is legible to everyone, if therapy starts at a very early age and never ends. If the self is just the expression of collective, democratic will and life is monitored in all its movements, if care is total, we might possibly get big evil / maleness under control. However this collective must eat everything, there cannot be a dividing line between it and something else, a hell, reigned by Satan, which lures you in with the promises of adventure and freedom, with the erasure of your criminal record and a relief from deadly sins.

  4. I think this article shows a weakness of the blogchain approach, or at least isn’t very compatible with it; how human sexual desire actually interacts with sex objects is something that needs to be drawn together from a range of different forms of evidence, so just referring to the existence of sex-bots as a general topic is hard to do without vaguely gesturing at generalities. I think it is possible to talk on this level briefly though, even if it means that you have to gesture vaguely at your evidence rather than properly investigate it:

    So for example, most discussions of sex bots focus on the question of their relationship to instrumentalised sex, with a possible, though simplistic model, being that expansion of porn, sex toys etc. colonises both violent and consensual sex, but also allows a casual increase in the prevalence of sex in everyday life. So for example, sexual assault decreases, commercial sex increases, actual reproduction decreases etc. By increasing convenience and expression of alternatives, sex tech connects people to more varied forms of sexual pleasure, increases the complexity of their own self-model, helps build public language, and also acts as a kind of contraceptive by increasing the percentage of time that people spend interacting sexually with others at an abstracted way, with in a sense more layers between them.

    Thinking about this in terms of layers of abstraction interposing between people within a sexual relationship is also interesting, if a little strange: If you make a sex toy for someone, are you having sex with them? You are certainly trying to consider how best to stimulate them, and these things will frequently be tested, and this is only more complex when you get to pornography vs phone sex vs building AI chat bots etc. The simple answer is probably no, in the sense that someone who builds a self-driving car is not actually driving all the people around, though legal responsibility could eventually end up that way in some countries. And it could particularly change when such things start being beta tested, and engineers are explicitly receiving feedback on a nightly basis about how their customers feel.

    But this still assumes that the primary purpose, the reason that people engage with these objects or systems, is in order to get sexual pleasure while bypassing complexities of relationships. And while this might be true, if you look across the world at those places that are currently most interested in this kind of thing, they are not interested in commodity sex, but luxury, customised expressions of their own fantasies, which, maybe because the time and money invested in them excludes all of those people with lower levels of investment, means they are treated as much as people would treat household shrines, to be fussed over, petted, adjusted, and invested ritually with significant emotional importance.

    Obviously, as tech develops, the emotional range it can support expands; when cgi was new, it’s weak texture and physics sim support meant that it best served representations of immaterial abstraction, whereas now, it’s commonly used in extremely “grounded” “gritty” action series focusing on simple emotional ideas expressed through blood, muck and violence.

    So low interactivity robotics should inevitably appeal to people interested in dolls first and foremost, in trying to represent their relationship to fictional women in more complete forms, and other forms of sexuality might dominate as the tech improves, but I would not be at all surprised if the future is not in entire automated female robots, but in a series of abstracted sex toys focused around supporting men’s fantasies about fictional women, but not trying to take over the central roll of creation that they engage in. We might expect the exact opposite of the “children insulting Siri” problem; people having instead a highly reverent relationship to their own constructed creations.