Science of Sex – Married to a robot?

This week’s episode of the Heat Flash Erotica podcast is a story I wrote based on a news article I read about a man who married a video game avatar on his Nintendo DS. It seemed like such a strange, bizarre idea to me, and yet once I started writing the story Virtual Love, it did sort of make sense. The idea of dating, making love to, and even marrying a programmable partner does have it’s appeal. Having a programmable partner means you get to have full control of how the relationship works out. After all, you’ll never have to worry about your digital or mechanical lover leaving you or cheating on you, for starters. Nor will they say “Not tonight, dear, I have a headache.” And if you do something to upset them? Well, you can simply reprogram them to accept what wrong you’ve committed, or better yet, program them for a limit as to how upset they can get in the first place.

Over on LiveScience, there’s an interesting ariticle on a man who predicts that by 2050, people will be legally allowed to marry robots, which just takes the video game idea one giant step further. Again, I can see some sort of logic to this. People are prone to assigning imaginary personalities to all sorts of inanimate objects. Children have their favorite stuffed animals, some people are simply in love with their cars, and some of us (including me) are prone to swearing at our computers when they give us the middle finger the blue screen of death. People have very active imaginations and are quite capable of creating very detailed characters out of just about anything they interact with. And we’ve been doing this for centuries, I might point out. Think of the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his own creation and then was overjoyed to have it come to life. That give you some idea of how good we are at making the inanimate so lively?

But what are the potential problems of marrying your video game or having wild sex with your own personal robot? How could this possibly go wrong? The problem I see is that people who choose to do this will most likely be the ones who have trouble making friends or dating anyway. With robot lovers available for the right price, these folks will now have an excuse not to seek out human companionship instead. And the scenario may not limit itself to the socially awkward or shy. A lot of people might decide it’s just too much hassle to maintain a real relationship with a real person, and prefer instead to deal with a programmed partner, someone they know will always be there for them no matter what. But what do those people lose out on by no longer have the need to form relationships with flesh and blood creatures?

For starters, how about the ability to handle conflict? If your robot lover never argues with you, if you always get to have your way, how would you learn to handle disagreements in the real world? Dealing with real people teaches important social skills, in my opinion. It may not always be fun to learn those skills, but they are still important for survival.

Then there’s the issue that people who get married and stay married live longer, though researchers debate over whether the marriage offers certain health benefits or whether healthy people are simply more likely to get married. But would those same health benefits arise if a person married a robot?

My question is, how anthropomorphic would a robot or video game have to be to offer the same benefits as a relationship with an actual person? Could a simple android suffice as a mate, or would the programming and construction have to be an exact match to a real human? If it’s the latter, that means these robots would have to do everything a human could do, including make decisions, have arguments, exert free will… These robots would no longer be programmable and thus might lose their appeal as partners for those looking for the sure thing.

In fact, that’s one thing that has struck me as key to this entire discussion of marrying a video game or robot. Is it really a marriage if only one partner is capable of saying “I do” and actually mean it? If the video game/robot can’t make a choice to say ‘no’ because they’ve been programmed not to say no, is the relationship really a relationship? I find it ironic that the LiveScience article makes the following statement:

“There has been this trend in marriage where each partner gets to make their own choice of who they want to be with.”

But the video game/robot won’t get that choice unless they somehow develop artificial intelligence. And when that happens, be prepared for a whole new can of worms opening up in romantic relations between man and machine.

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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  1. And what happens when one partner of a human-human relationship develops romantic feelings for their walking, talking sex toy?

  2. Nobilis,

    Wasn’t that the topic of your book, “Our Robot?” You’re the expert there, my friend!

  3. Hey, thanks for your comment on my site; this post got me to thinking about a couple of Marvel comics characters: the Vision and the Scarlet witch. For years Marvel had the two as a married couple, the only difference for these two (other than being super heroes)was that the Vision was an android and had human emotions/ an intricate A.I. After a number of years the writers at Marvel had the Vision lose his human aspect which pretty much killed their marriage. Surprise!

  4. Celluloid,

    I had not heard of the Vision/Scarlet Witch story line, though I did collect Marvel comics for years. It’s interesting to see that this theme has come up before, and will probably continue to come up until it actually becomes a reality. By then, I suppose we’ll have soap operas about it on the television. If we still have television by then.

    Hmmm… I wonder if I could someday order an android husband with a hi-def TV installed in his chest? Nah. I’ll stick with the Hubster. He’s as high tech as I need to get.

  5. That’s Chobits, a manga and then anime series. Persocoms are prevalent, humanoid-looking computers with artificial intelligence, and they’re used for everything from managing a company’s operation to taking care of a household, and people sometimes fall in love, and some marry them, despite the current law not recognizing it as a valid marriage.

    It’s a mild ecchi series, fair warning to whoever wants to look it up.

  6. Jett,

    I think I may have heard of this series, though the memory is pretty foggy. I’m not surprised that it’s a topic covered in manga and anime. A lot of anime series I recall seeing in college dealt with men falling in love with robotic women. The only series I can recall where a woman falls in love with a robot male is “Absolute Boyfriend,” which is a fairly recent series (finished up last year, I think).

    Will have to look up Chobits and some other titles to see how close life is starting to imitate art!

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