And no, I’m not writing about unhappy sex workers who perform their jobs robotically (because, who doesn’t do that when they hate their jobs?).
Actual, mechanical, sex workers. The question posed by the sci-fi/fantasy website io9, which should be bookmarked in any honest geek’s web browser, “How would robotic prostitutes change the sex tourism industry?” Firstly, this article, based on a study released by two researchers at the University of Wellington, starts off with an assumption that sex tourism, where clients travel to foreign countries for the purposes of sex, is the center of the trade but I don’t think it is. Flying within your own country is getting more and more expensive, much less flying to another one. This is one of many myths about provider-client interaction and business operations that the study seems to form as a basis.
Secondly, as one woman pointed out in the comment thread when this was posted by i09 on Facebook, “nothing can replace the human touch and interaction” and another woman stated, “this will only satisfy those who have no regard for whom they’re fucking”. Neither of these women didn’t identified as a sex workers of any stripe but they clearly understand the totality of the experience that is paid for. The giving and receiving, sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes…this is what sensuality is and though many clients may not be able to exactly place their finger on what they’re paying for (or think they’re paying for), this is it. The pleasure principle: pleasure begets pleasure and it is much more enjoyable for all involved, whether briefly or long-term, to remember this very basic philosophy.
Though the article mentioned that the robot was able to respond to pleasure or pain there was no indication that this response would be more complex than “I like that” or “I don’t like that”. Sounds a bit too much like a See ‘N Say to me. The picture at the top of this post is of Number Six, a Cylon model from the reimagined (aka Ronald D. Moore version) Battlestar Galactica. A natural seductress, one of her unnamed copies was shown in the television movie The Plan to have worked as a prostitute before the Fall of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. Though more of a synthetic human than a robot, something like Number Six isn’t trading on her non-humanity but that she, as a Cylon, was absolutely indistinguishable from a human woman unless one walked around with a lab kit to see that she is molecularly cybernetic. To be even more clear, the fact that she could be sensual, intelligent, and interact like the human women who worked beside her was how she was able to convincingly be human.
The joy of sensual sexual interaction with another human is the ability to go beyond “yes” or “no”. To quote the venerable Ninon de L’Enclos, “It takes a hundred times more skill to make love than to command an army.” The creativity needed to make suggestions and create nuances between yes and no will require a human intelligence and by that time a robot will cease to be a robot and simply be a synthetic human, like the human Cylons or the Replicants of Blade Runner fame, and work side-by-side with their fully human counterparts.
Lastly, a “decrease” in the spread of STIs and human trafficking is cited as one of the positives, but as has been pointed out repeatedly sex workers have the lowest rates of STIs despite laws (especially in the US) that would encourage a higher number, like holding “too many” condoms as evidence of prostitution instead of, you know, being health conscious. Additionally, the sources for the gargantuan numbers regarding human trafficking for the purposes of sex are highly questionable as pointed out by Dr. Laura Agustin, Maggie McNeill, and sex worker-run organizations all over the world.
Articles like these and other similar silly suggestions come up regularly about technology replacing humans. Of course, technology has replaced humans in areas where human interaction isn’t really necessary, such as assembly-lines. However, this has put people who used to work those jobs on the unemployment roll, often with no chance of getting off. Where human interaction is absolutely necessary, do you really want that other human replaced by a robot who can’t understand what you are feeling? This is only suggested in the realm of sex work under the “for their own good” guise. Very few people will want their hairdresser/barber, doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist, psychotherapist, best friend, lover, etc. replaced by a robot. I doubt clients of sex workers who respect our humanity will want the same.