Spoiler alert: they very much are.
Last Saturday I went to see ‘Blade Runner 2049’ at the cinema, the sequel to the iconic sci-fi film starring Harrison Ford. I really enjoyed the film despite walking out not fully understanding what had taken place in the last two hours and forty-nine minutes (yes it really is that long). Nonetheless, one thing that stood out to me more than the narrative, was the terrifying volume of technology within this particular Blade Runner universe. This may seem obvious, you can’t expect to turn up to a sci-fi film and not see flying vehicles and personal robotic devices, however what stunned me most out of the technology, came in the form of a character, a female hologram named Joi (played by Ana de Armas). Joi acts as a ‘virtual girlfriend’ towards ‘K’ the central character, played by Ryan Gosling. She is beautiful, kind and loving but untouchable, as whenever Gosling’s character attempts any physical interaction with Joi, his hands slip though her hologram, reminding him that she is purely a simulation. He is obviously in love with Joi, rejecting the advances of Mariette, a prostitute who replies “Oh I see, you don’t like real girls”, upon noticing his loyalty to his Artificial Intelligence device, ‘Joi’.
And it was at this point it struck me, as the quote “Oh I see, you don’t like real girls” made me contemplate, is there a place for “real girls” in our future? I know this sounds like an extreme conclusion to make, however if you consider women’s role in history as a passive figure, and how even now our world is “male-centric”, I start to feel that maybe the vision of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ isn’t so far away from what we may experience as technology advances. It isn’t a stretch to feel that some men may prefer women who mirror the attributes of artificial intelligence devices such as ‘Joi’. For example, throughout history women have been forced to hold back their true abilities, thoughts and feelings, for fear of emasculating men. Women have been expected to uphold an image of perfection, and this continues today to a certain extent. Women have had to fight for the vote, for equal pay, to be allowed to work, and a million other basic human rights, which have been withheld from us because we were considered unworthy. However, luckily in most cultures, we are no longer expected to be passive, thanks to a slow but sure progression towards a society where men and women have equal opportunity. But what if the future doesn’t continue this progression, what if we begin to reverse? Perhaps the future will bring a new generation of women, robotically engineered artificial intelligence who solely exist for men, alike those in Blade Runner.
I can imagine you feel that this is a little too far fetched? Well what if I told you that already, there are devices available to purchase that mirror the attributes of Joi? Welcome to the Japanese company ‘Gatebox‘, which has launched what it calls a ‘Virtual Home Robot’. This consists of a glass cylinder containing the hologram of an anime-style character called “Azuma Hikari“. Azuma is a young-looking female character with blue hair and eyes, and the slightly sexualised dress of most anime characters. To understand the true potential of this product watch the promotion films by clicking here. Although there are many problematic issues with this device, such as the push towards humanoid love rather than real love, one specific to this topic is that the only character available is a sexualised young female. This correlates to the dominance of sexualised female artificial intelligence in Blade Runner, as it seems to be a majority of female prostitites, artificial intelligence girlfriends and giant sexualised holograms of women. The same cannot be said in reverse, there were no huge holograms of sexualised males. Where was the male equivalent?
Many films take a similar approach to this, such as one of my favourites, ‘Ex Machina’, in which an intelligent creator, Nathan Bateman manufactures a humanoid robot named Ava, who has female attributes. Near the end of the film’s conclusion, it is revealed that there had been several humanoid prototypes before Ava, all of which were beautiful, model-like women, and all of which were naked. Why, when the character had the amazing ability to create an artificial intelligence, did he give it a sexuality? Why did he prioritise the inclusion of female sexuality when he could have been using his time to increase the power of the brain within the artificial intelligence? Because he wanted them to fufil his physical desires? Or purely just because he could?
I feel there is definitely a sense of the dominance and power that some may like to feel over women. An example of the desirability of power can be illustrated in Gatebox’s product, which I mentioned earlier. The language on the website used to describe the character presents an uncomfortability about it, including phrases such as ‘”Azuma Hikari”,will be arriving at her master’s home’ and ‘She will always do all she can just for the owner‘. The device even allows you to text your “virtual girlfriend”, as the website states:
“Through the chat application,
you can send and receive messages
even when you’re not together.
Just be careful. If the owner comes home
too late the character will feel lonely.”
Despite this, I am sympathetic and aware of the appeal of this product, as it may act as comfort amongst lonely individuals. This product may be seen as a way to combat depression for isolated citizens. However, what provokes me is the exclusion of a male character option, as I feel this illustrates our internalised and subconscious view of women. The view that they are expected to be submissive and obedient towards their male partner, and prioritise the male figure, over themselves. I feel it feeds the fantasy of a perfect woman, programmed to love and care for you, so you can never deter her. The imbalance between the amount of sexulaised humanoid females and humanoid males that are presented to us in the media, is particularly problematic, as it infers that we still live in a world filtered by the male-gaze, which implies a woman who is controllable and programable is more desirable. Presenting artificial intelligence female robots in such an idealised way, may begin to have a negative impact on how we view real women. When looking at clips of scenes which include Joi from Blade Runner on youtube, it is evident that many viewers take a preference to her and berate women as a consequence, as can be seen in the comments found on the video:
Let’s look at that last comment “and you can turn her off and keep her in your pocket when you need a break.” Honestly this particularly bothered me, as it angers me that a woman’s purpose is assumed to be to fulfil a man’s preferences. This commenter also felt that needing a ‘break’ from a woman is something perfectly acceptable to desire. This is no surprise considering the concept that women are a nuisance is ingrained in society; with wives being referred to as a ‘ball and chain’ or Stag parties being referred to as the Groom’s ‘last night of freedom’, or even the popular term ‘Man Cave‘, a phrase which is defined on wikipedia as a ‘male retreat or sanctuary’ where ‘”guys can do as they please”, without fear of upsetting any female sensibility about house decor or design’. It is a popular concept that men “need” escapism from marriage and their families, however ironic considering many studies show that men benefit more from marriage than women.
Artficial Intelligence devices have been numerously in the public eye recently, with popular British TV show ‘This Morning’ airing an interview with the co-creator of a ‘sex robot’, an artficial intelligence device named Samantha with female characteristics. The creator, Arran Lee Wright claims that “We are not trying to replace women, it’s as a supplement.” Psychologist Emma Kenny listens uncomfortably and comments that in Japan they’ve “created dolls which you can set to a particular setting, which simulates an unwanted response(…) not only are we commercialising women but we’re becoming consumers of women’s bodies’. I feel Kenny really hit the nail on the head here, as with the production of artificial intelligence, it’s biggest and most awaited useage seems to be to create a programmable female capable of sexual activities. With this comes the very real negative affects on women, such as the validation of the objectification and commercialisation of women as a vehicle for male pleasure. Interestingly, the co-creator’s wife was also on the programme, sparking a question from presenter Phillip Schofield who inquired “Is he gonna make a bloke for you?” to which the wife laughed and answered “No, not at all, you know I’m not worried at all”.
I do believe that if ‘sex robots’ became mainstream amongst society, male robots would be created, however I doubt they would be as accepted when used by females, or as in demand. I feel this is predictable from the current way society views pornography, and the difference in the taboos between male and female pleasure. Pornography has a majority of a male audience, with the porn industry being one of the only industries where women are paid more than men, due to the high demand from males who consume this content, in comparison to women. It is seen as more acceptable and normal for men to watch pornography and experience personal pleasure, with many coming of age films such as ‘American Pie‘ and ‘Kick Ass‘ featuring scenes openly expressing male sexual deisre, often with a light-hearted, humourous approach, however if you reverse the gender, this type of scene would be considered very controversial and uncommon in mainstream films. Therefore, the likelihood of a dominance and normalisation of female AI is much higher than the contrary.
So this leads to the question; will our future look similar to that in ‘Blade Runner’, will “real girls” still be necessary? Of course they will. At the end of the day nothing can compete with real, unsimulated, and unprogrammed humans. However I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the future for women, in a world where men seem to still have the majority of jurisdiction and authority. It isn’t a fear of the competition or replacement of females, but the lines it will blur between the treatment of humanoids and real women, and what it will mean for the future treatment of our daughters.
This article was inspired by the LSN: Global article; ‘Is the technology in Bladerunner 2049 already here?‘
Other interesting articles on this topic: