Turkle (Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other) was shocked when a Scientific American reporter accused her of standing in the way of same-sex marriage. She doesn’t oppose gay marriage, but the reporter was unhappy that Turkle objected to “mating and marriage of people to robots” (5).

The interview was in response to David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots. Turkle summarizes Levy’s argument:

Love and Sex is earnest in its predictions about where peopleand robots will find themselves by mid-century: ‘Love with robots will be asnormal as love with other humans, while the number of sexual acts and lovemakingpositions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, asrobots will teach more than is in all of the worlds published sex manuals combined.’Levy argues that robots will teach us to be better friends and lovers becausewe will be able to practice on them. Beyond this, they will substitute wherepeople fail. Levy proposes, among other things, the virtues of marriage to robots.He argues that robots are, of course, ‘other’ but, in many ways, better. No cheating.No heartbreak. In Levys argument, there is one simple criterion for judgingthe worth of robots in even the most intimate domains: Does being with a robotmake you feel better?” (5-6).

Turkle’s response is to the point: “A love relationship involvescoming to savor the surprises and the rough patches of looking at the world fromanothers point of view, shaped by history, biology, trauma, and joy. Computersand robots do not have these experiences to share. We look at mass media andworry about our culture being intellectually ‘dumbed down.’ Love and Sexseems to celebrate an emotional dumbing down, a willful turning away fromthe complexities of human partnershipsthe inauthentic as a new aesthetic” (6).

Which brings her back to the reporter: “His analogizing of robots to gay men and women demonstrated that,for him, future intimacy with machines would not be a second-best substitutefor finding a person to love. More than this, the reporter was insisting that machineswould bring their own special qualities to an intimate partnership thatneeded to be honored in its own right. In his eyes, the love, sex, and marriagerobot was not merely ‘better than nothing,’ a substitute. Rather, a robot had become ‘better than something.’ The machine could be preferablefor any numberof reasonsto what we currently experience in the sometimes messy, oftenfrustrating, and always complex world of people” (7).

But one does have to ask: If marriage no longer requires a man and a woman, if it is only a legal validation of affection, why not marry a machine?

More on: History, Science

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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