By Juan Belami
In some corner of Barcelona’s lower belly, there are men who take turns to have sexual intercourse with dolls. A hundred and twenty euros grant you a couple of hours. Even in this Airbnb-saturated area, it’s an unexpected turn in the history of collaborative economy. LumiDolls is the first robot brothel, but it won’t be the last. London has already announced it will have a cafe where robots will give you head. Meanwhile, a Catalan scientist is meant to have developed the first sexual doll with AI. If you behave, as you should, you might even lead this creature, Samantha, to orgasm. We’re just at the dawn of the golden age of sexual robots.
Sexual robots represent the impulse of improvising orifices in its most advanced stage. They’re supposedly better than a fleshlight or any kind of suction tube, but there’s no way to avoid the fact that they make strange masturbation accomplices. They’re a physical crutch for those devoid of imagination. You will be able to literally tyrannise the doll, but the shame of having intercourse with the doll will tyrannise you with its literality. Her real orgasm will still be a fake orgasm; the only thing you will manage is to gamify your wank.
A prostitute association has complained about robots denigrating their work and objectifying them. Without knowing, they state the main problem of sexual robots: since they’re really no more than objects, costumers won’t be able to pretend they’re not objectifying them. In the same way that society insists that tips are given for a good service, or that wages are the fruit of a fair interchange between boss and worker, paying money for sex creates the aura of a transaction that allows us to avoid questions of necessity. Sexual robots can’t conceal their consent yet. They’re too real but at the same time not real enough.
Domination is in the heart of the sexual robot fantasy. They arouse emotion through the possibility of being able to do anything you want with them. At the end of the day, there’s no difference between them being pre-programmed to consent everything, and they have no rights. The same narrative of violation is developed with Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and Thandie Newton in Westworld. Both are tales of the intellect rebelling against a regime of sexual slavery.
It is well known that money is the tool that allows men to have sexual intercourse with women far more attractive than them. The spectre goes from the prostitute to the student supported by a sugar daddy, from “trophy wives” to the First Lady in her golden cage. The universal portrait of luxury is that youth and beauty are merchandise to be bought and sold, and that they are the privilege of the richest. With no money, in the best of cases, you will only be able to rent your servants, sexual or not, for a while. The fantasy of sexual robots promises us the democratisation of sexual slavery, a à la carte patriarchy; instead of the real privilege, its simulation.
Physical technology, for the moment, is deficient. Meanwhile, the utopia of sexual robots will take a different shape. Escapism will have to be virtual before becoming concrete. Love of Lesbian proposed bullfighting for the Wii. They didn’t get it quite right, but almost. We’ll soon have porn for Wii. Taking into account the amount of people who enjoyed the simplicity of Tetris, the demand for its sexual version will be unlimited. Immersive simulations are being built already. Sexual dolls are an approximation to physical reality; virtual sex will give a visual approximation to imagination.
Sex has always been a great engine for innovation. Electronic commerce and credit card verification, streaming videos, webcams and the expansion of the broadband were produced because people wanted to secretly consume porn, the most respectable side of the sexual business. Previously, sex helped the creation of digital cameras (which deleted the shame of having a third party developing your most intimate pics) and VCR. Sex will lead the creation of virtual reality, giving the market an impulse. With your helmet you will be able to simulate fighting against the Nazis and playing tennis against Nadal. But the money will go to those who allow you to fuck, fuck and fuck.
Virtual helmets will allow you to simulate sex with whomever you want, the way you want, any time you want. We know this technology is almost ready: it will be a more sophisticated version of Snapchat face swapping, placing one’s image over the face of another. You will be able to fuck Emma Stone, Sophia Loren, your mother, your father when he was your age, Pablo Iglesias, Hitler or Pikachu. Rule 34 says that it you can conceive modern pornography about anything, it already exists. With the arrival of simulations, this will unleash. Margaret Atwood is our modern Cassandra, her warnings ignored. It will be sexe partout, amour nulle part. The world is already a weird place, and soon it will be even weirder: weird à la carte.
Immediate satisfaction of necessities is the rule of our times. We have gone from just-in-time manufacturing to we want it all right now. Amazon offers this for consumerist goods (even books!), Uber for taxis, Netflix for TV and Zara for the latest fashion. Tinder, but most of all Grindr, is used for sexual partners. It’s already tough when it takes time to get food delivered from another continent, prepared by a cook from another continent and served by a waiter from another continent. Waiting –for transportation, to enter a club, to get a liver transplant– is the symbol of poorness. And thus it’s experimented as an almost unbearable pressure.
The rich are already conquering reality while the rest are being seduced by fantasy. Japan, always in the avant-garde of our robot imaginary, has the hikikomori, a growing legion of young people who opt for hiding inside their cocoons. Better being an imaginary butterfly than a sordid caterpillar, and why not? The amount of content ready to be consumed is already unlimited. Your smartphone is a library bigger than the library of Alexandria, an art gallery vaster than the Louvre and a better music stage than the very poor La Scala. It’s difficult not to love it, not to say to avoid becoming addicted. You can achieve secession from a deficient society in order to unleash your fantasies on the screen. Better that than confronting the reality of your own condition.
Videogames are a more important business than Hollywood. It’s logical. Why contemplating your everyday life when you can picture yourself as Hannibal commanding an elephant squadron? Why limiting oneself? Instead of being a witness of history, you’re the protagonist. 19th century novelists illustrated what happened when young men wanted to play at being Napoleon: Rashkolnikov kills an old woman and Julien Sorel his older lover. Now there’s another way to turn your failure into something epic. This inversion of values has a long tradition in the Western world.
For centuries, the Catholic world has recreated a ritual that combines imagination and objectification: the Eucharist. You eat a wafer and drink wine, but you are consuming Christ. People queue up in the dark, surrounded by their own shame, like in that robot brothel. Emotion comes from pretending that all is real. Now, technology has taken the place of religion; it promises the hope of a salvation that doesn’t exist. Sexual robots are the new opium of the people. They represent an illusory happiness and an obstacle to real happiness. The domination of the fake isn’t an adequate answer to being dominated by reality. Soon, the owner of sexual robots will own you as well. We can end up so distracted by the circus that we might forget to conquer our bread.