The lack of approval for sexbots comes from their unqualified humanness, this concern is referred to as the ‘uncanny valley’ (Lee, 2017 p. 4). The fear is based on consent and the probability of reversing moral sexual conduct. For instance, the reliance on sexbots can escalate gendered objectification (ibid., p. 4).
In Ex Machina 2014, we see Nathan’s use of sexbots for what they are – objects. Although, the aim for both computer developers is to see the potential for Ava to advance into a conscious state. The scene below reveals the use of sexbots, both physically and mentally.
There is a blurred line between wanting sexbots to be human-like and not at all. Technology acts as a double-edged sword as it can be the reason for human connection and lack-there-of (Haraway; Heath, 2016 p. 73). Nathan labels humanity as ‘fluid’, ‘imperfect,’ and ‘chaotic’ within another scene. All of which do not translate to technology and its forms.
According to Airenti (2018), anthropomorphism is typically an ‘imaginary transformation’ frequent to human to non-human interaction (p. 2). On the other hand, Sexbots allow for one’s imagination to come to fruition. The following scene makes sexuality a programmed feature, as Caleb asks why Nathan would add sexuality into robotics.
Caleb anthropomorphises whilst Nathan does not…
The use of sexbots within Ex-Machina is most important when considering the need for ethics. The consequences of exploiting objects which are non-human come from the lack of ethics. Nathan builds Ava and Kyoko to be more human-like, without treating them like humans. Although Ava is the main robot with the film, Kyoko is key to the plot in terms of robotic ethics. The audience is not certain that she is a robot but due to her ‘subservient’ and lifeless face, we assume. In Kyoko’s first scene, she brings Caleb breakfast in bed, wearing tight clothing, appealing to his sexuality (Lewis, 2019). This perpetuates traditional feminine roles within a postmodern context.
Consent is necessary for sex to be practised, ethically. It becomes problematic, particularly in regard to female sexbots. According to previous research, there are only two versions for use, “the passive fembot” versus the “evil seductress” (Heath, 2016 p. 72). Kyoko acts as the passive fembot whilst Ava is the evil seductress. Designing robots to be passive sheds light on the negativity of human behaviour. The users of sexbots may intend to “experiment” with fembots as a way to facilitate rape fantasies (Sparrow, 2017 p. 466). To have sex with a robot is far from sex with a human, despite how real it may appear. The association of human traits to a machine prompts ethical concern for how the misuse of sexbots can be harmful.
Like Caleb, Martha in Black Mirror’s Be Right Back 2013 desires a robot without wanting to admit so. A post-modern perspective offers an explanation as to why technology is morphing into us, barring an established moral ground (Haraway, 2013). The European Parliament conducted a report in 2016, denying sexbots as “electronic persons”, despite being a version of a care robot. The report concluded that an “ethical framework for the design, production, and use of robots” needed to be deliberated and made lawful (Delvaux, 2016).
Martha’s husband, Ash dies but through her grief, she gets his internet data developed into a robot or her personal sexbot. The key scene (see below) within the episode shows Martha’s awareness of how “ridiculous” having a sexbot is, but she appreciates its benefits. Sexbots are designed with human features. In Martha’s case, Ash’s robot is exactly as his human form, acting as a care robot as well as a sexbot. The exploration of ethics may allow for sexbots to be legitimatised. At the moment they are still in their social infancy (Goldapple, 2020).
Please note: the following clip includes sexual references
Do you think Martha will regret anthropomorphising Ash, her sexbot?