Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sex in the Digital Age: Sad and Solo

Jeremy Hsu ( with Wisdom Quarterly commentary

Sexuality in the Digital Age can mean sexting on smartphones, hookups through Craigslist and Facebook, and transmitting lewd photos like Weiner.

But while humans continue to define the do's and don'ts of online lust, a new generation of computer programs may have already figured it out. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, a scandal like Anthony Weiner's doesn't even necessarily need two humans anymore.

Online chat bots already send come-hither messages to users of social media or dating websites. Video games and online programs also offer virtual girlfriend (or boyfriend) experiences on smartphones and handheld video game consoles.

The crude connections may signal a "robotic moment" for society where humans begin turning to artificial intelligence to fulfill emotional needs, said Sherry Turkle, director of MIT's Initiative on Society and Self.

"I did find people who were interested in artificial boyfriends and girlfriends, in artificial spouses," Turkle told InnovationNewsDaily. "They were not being ironic. They felt that people had failed them. And that a robot would be a safe choice."

Virtual lovers
Such "seduction by social robots" forms a key theme in Turkle's latest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books, 2011).

She found that some people can desire what robots offer -- either in virtual form or as crude sex bots -- even if it marks a step below emotional fulfillment with other human beings. More
VIDEO: Sex Robot (Discovery Health)
All over America there are men with a bizarre unspoken fetish. Welcome to the sex robot scene where femme-bots are becoming a reality.
Inventor unveils $7,000 talking Sex Robot
(CNN) To some men, she might seem like the perfect woman: She's a willowy 5 feet 7 and 120 pounds. She'll chat with you endlessly about your interests. And she'll have sex whenever you please -- as long as her battery doesn't run out.
Couple's robotic child does everything (is it legal?)

Make Love, Not Robots
Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
It seems like the end of the world. This is a terrible idea. But it makes it obvious how easy it is to sell anything: Accentuate the positive; dismiss the obvious.

What people do, whatever they do, that's fine. Why would anyone else worry about other people's business -- unless it affects us, unless they are part of the Sangha (or some other select group with inherent rules)?

Often it would happen among Buddhist monastics that, in ancient times, one would say to another, "You don't tell me what to do, and I won't tell you what to do." That comment alone is a violation. Outside of the rarefied atmosphere of a monastery, family, or coherent group, however, who can argue with this laissez faire attitude? Free trade, rough trade, who's to say?

Is it "sexual misconduct"?
Sexual misconduct (kamesu micchacara) is defined, technically, as sexual intercourse (penetration) with someone when you are not free to consent (because of living in dependence on someone else such as a parent, guardian, or spouse) or with someone not able to give consent (because that person is living in dependence on someone else).

This detailed definition (found in the Numerical Discourses, Book of Tens, Sutra 206) is not the whole story. The Five Precepts are defined at different levels: In the most basic sense, they are the bottom line. But the reality is, there is more to it. Although it is frequently mentioned, no precept says one abstains from lying. That's what people say based on not reading primary documents and instead relying on loose translations. One abstains from "false speech." And false speech goes a lot farther than mere lying.

As an unsuitable translation, "sexual misconduct" is defined as "adultery." But our modern view of this word (a married person having extramarital relations) is not mentioned at all. What's mentioned is much wider, what we would call "cheating," seducing someone in a relationship. But usually we do not hold that person as having done much by Judeo-Christian standards, even if we despise such people at a gut level. Kamesu means sensuality. Sexuality, its most exaggerated form, stands for less serious manifestations of it (such as gluttony or abuse of any of the other five senses). The worst "false speech" (musavada) is bearing false witness (perjury).

The Five Precepts were not invented by the Buddha but realized by him and revealed as crucial to keep -- if one would be happy now (through peace of mind) and in the future when one meet with the results of karma. What makes something "bad"? If it harms the doer (when the action bears its result, which is rarely right away), if it harms another (which is usually right away), or both (which seems to mean society or everyone involved not merely the two principals, e.g., sex with someone dependent on parents involves many more people that the two having sex.

Who's harmed by sex with a bot?
There is no way to have sex with a robot without engendering a habit of lust and its expression. This will not be helpful in life. The excuse, completely unfounded, that it is a "release valve" for sexual energy is flawed. Eating more does not make one less hungry. On the contrary, one grows fatter and hungrier. Be that as it may.

If one chooses to become obsessed with sex -- Internet pornography, prostitution, pandering, or prurient interest in "interactive technology" -- that individual is alone in that. But none of us are alone. The illusion of separation is deluded, but there is no convincing anyone in the grip of it that it is anything but true. All we do affects others, and to a greater or lesser extent we are responsible for that.

Sex with robot -- even robot "children" -- may be legal. But is it a good idea? This commentary cannot go any further than to say to the individual, Think twice. Lot's of things are legal that are not a good idea.

Masturbation (which is what sex with an inanimate machine is) and the realization of the fantasy envisioned in West World makes us all more isolated, unempathic, and enmeshed in unsatisfactory pursuits that science (for profit) hails as a technological breakthrough to advance the world. This is what happens when socially-ostracized nerds rule the world.

Help save the world -- offer nerds affection so they won't spend their time inventing things like automated kissing machines.

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