randombio.com | science commentary
Monday, December 26, 2016

The sexbot myth

The news media seem to be obsessed with sex robots. But human sexuality is far too complex for them.

B efore he died, Carl Djerassi, the chemist working at Syntex in Mexico city who invented the birth control pill, wrote a commentary in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard lamenting that his invention produced “an epidemic far worse than obesity.” He was referring to population decline. But the Pill also causes psychological changes in women that may be affecting society in other ways we don't fully understand.

Sexuality in both men and women is largely pre-programmed and directed by hormones.[1] In one study, researchers studied seven males who had received injuries that resulted in being surgically ‘reassigned’ between birth and 17 months and were brought up as females. They found that six out of seven retained normal male sexual orientation,[2] dramatically demonstrating the overpowering role of biology. Socialization plays little if any role in determining male sexual identity; in this ball game, at least in the absense of psychological issues it is chromosomes and hormones that are the stars.

Structured object representation
Structured object representation. This is how your sexbot will think of you. (From [6]).

The same is true for women. Many studies have shown that women are more receptive when in their fertile cycle phase, and significantly less so when progesterone is elevated, a state mimicked by the pill. Women on progesterone and its derivatives also act less feminine and are less desirable to males. It's nature's way of telling them to keep away during pregnancy. But nature must be smacking its forehead: it never considered the possibility that vast numbers of women would drug themselves into mimicking the pregnant state. Contraceptives may be safe, but we know little about how they affect the brain.

Now the news media are telling us that women are about to be replaced by artificially intelligent fembots. Maybe they're serious, or maybe they're just trying to boost their limp, flagging circulation, but the problem they're talking about will never materialize.

While some reporters try to make the case that men's fear of robots caused the election of Donald Trump, a far more likely scenario in a depopulating world is carebots designed to take care of the elderly, and childbots designed to help people deal with our programmed need to care for children, a role traditionally filled by animal pets.

Some petbots are available now, but they are not very popular, possibly because the cat bots haven't yet mastered the skill of barfing up partially-digested grass and creating ammonia stains on your carpet. Some of these obstacles will no doubt be overcome, but some will be difficult. Sexbots will also need to adopt similar traits in order to be accepted.

But it is not childbots or carebots, but fembots that send cold shivers down the spine of feminists. They've bought into the myth that males react only to the external physical appearance of females, and that this is a simple response easily mimicked by a machine. While it is possible for deceptive cues to influence sexual attraction, male sexuality is far more complex than people realize. It hasn't been studied as much because so much of it is in the brain. But we're learning bits and pieces. For example, we now know that males use faces, as opposed to bodies, for evaluating potential long-term partners.[3]

The male scrutinizes these cues, not for their own sake, but because they signify what the potential mate is thinking. That's why movie actresses with different levels of skill produce completely different responses in the viewer. Good actors are convincing because they are actually feeling something. A robot, having no authentic desire to mate or reproduce, is at best an unconvincing actor because the male knows it is not really feeling what it claims to be.

It is theoretically possible for a robot to have authentic emotional feelings. But modern AI research has not come anywhere close to discovering how to produce them. Even when they do, the result will almost certainly not be sexual emotions like those we're used to.

Human sexual responses are part conditioning, part pheromones,[4] and part preprogrammed responses to physical and behavioral cues. The development of sexual responses is not fully understood, yet in the interests of birth control, a desirable thing to be sure, our species has jumped into unknown territory, with potentially momentous consequences.

The hypersexualization of our entertainment and the ubiquity of porn, which some groups complain so much about, are not causes of social problems, but symptoms of nature's attempt to restore what is being lost. When biochemical and psychological signaling are suppressed by drugs, all that remains is the artificial imitation of it. Fake sexuality, like that which made Miley Cyrus a multi-millionaire, permeates our culture not because we are decadent, but because it is a substitute for what we have lost, much as our food industries pack their nutrient-challenged food with sugar and salt in an attempt to make it palatable.

Romantic love evolved to enable individuals to focus their mating energy on specific individuals[5]. Despite what the newspapers may claim, nature isn't stupid. If we don't know that by now, we'll figure it out pretty quick when artificially intelligent fembots come on the market. A recent study claimed that some ridiculous percentage of males said they would purchase one when they came on the market. What will probably happen is that a small proportion of, shall we say, ‘early adopters’ will try them out. They'll quickly be reminded that despite strong social and media pressure to deny biology, the sex drive is based on the need for reproduction, which can never be adequately simulated by a computer.

Humans are social animals, and mate preference is based on social status, for which intelligence is as important as appearance. If it were otherwise, puncture repair kits would be the number one seller on Amazon, and shops specializing in repair of vinyl items (or maybe they are high density polyethylene, I'm not sure) would be as common as car body shops. We can see how complex this programming is by noting how little we understand why birth rates have dropped in industrialized societies.

But whatever happens, it won't be the fault of fembots. While robots may take our jobs, they can never satisfy our pre-programmed need to reproduce, even if they pour out fake behavioral cues and synthetic sex pheromones by the bucketload. Any fembots purchased by the curious will be expensive toys, and, after failing to match expectations, end up neatly packed away in their original storage cases. And once again, feminists will blame males for doing it.

1. Motta-Mena NV, Puts DA. (2016). Endocrinology of human female sexuality, mating, and reproductive behavior. Horm Behav. 2016 Nov 17. pii: S0018-506X(16)30122-2. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.11.012.

2. Bailey JM, Vasey, PL, Diamond, LM, Breedlove, SM, Vilain, E, Epprecht, M. (2016). Sexual orientation, controversy, and science. Psychol. Sci. Public Interest 17:45–101. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1529100616637616.

3. Confer JC, Perilloux C, Buss, DM (2010). More than just a pretty face: men's priority shifts toward bodily attractiveness in short-term versus long-term mating contexts. Evol. Hum. Behav. 31, 348–353.

4. Lübke KT, Pause BM. (2015). Always follow your nose: the functional significance of social chemosignals in human reproduction and survival. Horm Behav. 2015 Feb;68:134–44. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2014.10.001.

5. Fisher H, Aron A, Brown LL. (2005). Romantic love: an fMRI study of a neural mechanism for mate choice. J Comp Neurol. 2005 Dec 5;493(1):58–62.

6. Nilsson NJ (1980) Principles of Artificial Intelligence. Tioga, Palo Alto.

Last updated dec 27, 2016 4:20 pm

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