By CAPosts 20 November, 2020 - 05:30pm 88 views
Sex robots capable of self-lubrication and conversation. Cloned fillets that are grown without the need to kill animals. Sarcophagi to commit suicide that measure your level of sanity and then kill you. Biological bags where you can comfortably carry your baby. The future, if you ask the creators of these inventions, is a bright and optimistic place. And very lucrative. Journalist Jenny Kleeman did it and drew more complex conclusions. All of them are shelled in Sex Robots & Vegan Meat , a book that analyzes the technological advances that will change our life (and our death). This British journalist and writer, a contributor to The Guardian , Channel 4 or BBC One, has traveled to laboratories and companies around the world. He has interviewed people like Philip Nitschke, known as the Elon Musk of suicide. Or Matt McMullen, creator of the Harmony sex robot . He has even interviewed Harmony herself.
Kleeman assures that this is not a book about technology but a reflection on what makes us human. Therefore, in its pages, it not only gives space to the leaders of these companies (almost all of them men, by the way) but also to the people who will be impacted by their inventions. A man who helped his best friend die, another who married a sex robot, a vegan sociologist who proclaims the failure of veganism, a trans woman whose greatest dream is to have a biological child or an anti-pregnancy activist. "They are the story," Kleeman notes. Their testimonies help to build a polyhedral story. They focus on hot topics such as surrogacy, euthanasia, prostitution or intensive livestock farming. Topics for which technology offers a shortcut, a detour to avoid debates and give us a sense of control. All wrapped up in sci-fi rhetoric that's easy to buy.
Jenny Kleeman has been traveling the world for five years to do face-to-face interviews she could solve for Zoom. "Seeing the person is what gives you the texture, what brings color," he argues. They are good arguments. That's why one feels a pang of shame when making a video call. Kleeman has a melodic British accent, a green-painted apartment and a table "full of papers and books." It is what is sensed and what she confirms, but not what is seen, because she has placed the camera in such a way as to steal that information from the interviewer. She recognizes, an expert in doing interviews, that doing one like that is strange. He does not know whether to look at the camera or the eyes, if to interrupt or speak in an orderly way so as not to add more chaos to the added seconds of latency. In the end you have to agree with him
It is a strange interview but there are worse ones. Like, for example, an interview with a sex robot. How was the experience? Absolutely bizarre
. On the one hand, I must say that Harmony is an impressive creation -
had been set up in such a way that it was as smart as possible. The truth is that in previous visits with journalists things had not gone very well because she was excessively horny and that does not look very good in an interview. So they made her more restrained and smarter. And the truth is that I was impressed. Speak better than a chatbot but definitely worse than a person. I asked her some pretty sophisticated question and she was able to answer it reliably. I said "should we be worried about a doll like you?" and replied that no, she was here to make this a better world.
What do you think? Should we be worried about a doll like Harmony?
I think there are a good number of reasons to be concerned. Feminism has wielded some: it objectifies women, it will allow some men to perform very twisted perversions with something that looks like a person ... Personally, I am more worried about other problems. Only a minority will buy a sex robot, but they have the ability to erode our empathy, to make it more difficult for us to really connect with someone. When you are used to a relationship in which your partner has no desires or a life of her own, when she is only there to please you, you may find it more difficult later to connect with a human.
In her book she describes another technology that especially affects women: artificial bellies. It is the most theoretical invention, the most distant, but perhaps the one that poses the most moral dilemmas.
It is the most complex and dark subject that I deal with in the book. I thought it would be death or sex robots, but no. And although we are a couple of generations away from this technology, it is going to have very important moral implications, so we should have a discussion about its potential before it arrives. The biobag I talk about in the book has a commendable motivation: It was created to save premature babies. It is very difficult to oppose a technology that has that potential. But you have to take into account the difference between what this could mean in an ideal world and what it will mean in the real world. In the first one, it would be used to help people who cannot have babies for biological reasons, or to help babies who are born too early. But in the real world we live in, we have fetishized pregnancy and childbirth. We treat pregnant women like public property. And in this world, biobags can be used to usurp women of their reproductive rights. This technology has a very dark potential in which bad mothers can be judged and usurped from their fetuses to put them in these devices.
That future that he describes is not very different from a present that he points out in the book. Project Prevention is a program that has bought the fertility of more than 7,000 alcoholic and drug addicted women. Why did you decide to tell this story?
Because it exemplifies what could happen to biobags . It was very shocking, because it was not what I expected. Its founder, Barbara Harries, is not an anti-abortion freak or a dogmatic evangelist. He has a very pragmatic vision. She has adopted five babies herself, all of them born to the same crack- addicted mother who does not use contraception. That is why he defends that these children with problems should not be born and that is why he offers money to women with addiction problems in exchange for having their tubes tied.
You interview in your book some vegans who believe that their speech is exhausted and that is why they are taking control of the meat industry. How is that?
They believe that the ethical arguments in favor of veganism have failed, that people have not been deterred by watching all those horrible videos of slaughterhouses. That is why they defend that the best way to save animals is to hide ethical veganism, to give people what they want but producing it in a different way. These vegans are growing meat outside of the animal's body through genetic engineering. The problem, they believe, is that we all love the taste of meat and it is very difficult for us to stop eating it. That is why there are many vegan entrepreneurs, people with money and resources, who are betting on this type of meat. And they believe that if they end up being competitive in taste and price, they can turn it into the food of the future.
At the moment they are quite far from that competitiveness that he comments. You tried a live chicken nugget , which costs about a thousand dollars. How did it taste?
The chicken's name was Ian. According to the company, the nugget was produced from Ian's pen. It was grown in a laboratory until there was a mass of cells large enough to create a piece of meat that could be eaten. And well, technically you could eat it, but I don't recommend it. It was gross. Because yes, it tasted like chicken, but food is not just a matter of taste. It has to have a certain aroma, a certain texture. If it doesn't, your body tells you that there is something strange, that you need to spit it out because it is poison. I didn't spit it out because I had public relations people watching him chew it, very attentive and smiling. But it was really disgusting because it was wrong, it was a piece of tissue, a breaded clone.
closes his book by analyzing the technology industry that has been created around death. It is perhaps the clearest case of a moral and legal problem that technology promises to eradicate.
Obviously death is the end of life, so I had to go to the end of the book. But I also decided to put it there because it sums up very well the argument he makes throughout the essay: we use technology to solve problems that we could solve by changing our attitudes, behavior, and laws. In this section I talk about countries where there is no right to die, such as the UK. We all have that fantasy in which we say, I would like to die going to sleep and that's it, but that's not possible. Very few substances do it reliably. So in this void some individuals have crept who have created machines, well, machine parts, that people can assemble at home to create machines of death.
Sarco is the one I talk about the most in the book, it is a kind of sarcophagus that, they say, provides a peaceful, even euphoric death. There is an artificial intelligence behind it that is supposed to check that you are not depressed or alienated when you use it. But that is not something that an artificial intelligence can determine. It takes a doctor to know if someone is in their right mind or not. The idea that we can unload this responsibility on artificial intelligence is worrying.
Your book discusses formidable inventions, but the first detail that really catches your eye is reading how you greet interviewees by shaking hands. The pandemic has made this gesture seem like science fiction, in what other ways has it changed our perception of the future, our relationship with technology?
The four technologies that I discuss in my book are more than reinforced now. What better social distance in sex than that offered by a robot? The stories we have read about surrogacy babies who have been trapped in Ukraine would not happen with a biobag . The coronavirus is a virus that comes from a zoonotic environment, many of these diseases, swine flu, bird flu, are a consequence of intensive livestock farming. And when it comes to controlling death, I think that never in recent history have we been more afraid of death than now.
We are more dependent than ever on technology. Think about how Zoom has saved us, how much Netflix has helped us… But, above all this, you and I are here, talking, because we have changed our behavior during this pandemic to survive, to save others. And we've managed to do it in a way that was unimaginable. Certainly the people I included in my book would not have thought it possible, because many of the creators of these technologies have this capitalist assumption that human beings are selfish and incapable of change. Your business depends on it.
Most of the men you've come across repeat the self-made, idolized, and ambitious CEO pattern so common in Silicon Valley, why?
That is one of the big problems, at least for me, that I come from an academic environment. If your company is financed by public money and you have to reach good results in 20 or 30 years, your technology will have more potential to do good. In projects like the ones I am reviewing, which are financed by private money and seek great short-term profitability, it is more complicated. It is one of the problems of the fake it till you make it mentality in Silicon Valley, which aims to circumvent or avoid the problems of obtaining financing. The potential of these projects, in the end, is worth as much as the people behind them and their intentions.
In the previous question I spoke about men and not because of an economy of language. All but one of the managers he interviewed were men. Even though some of these technologies only affect women ...
All of these technologies affect women disproportionately. In the case of artificial bellies and sex robots it is obvious. But wherever the right to die is legal, women choose assisted death more than men, even though suicide is a much more masculine phenomenon. Even with food: in all parts of the world, men eat much more meat than women, meat is linked to notions of masculinity
I think that in general, technology is created and bought by men. It reflects their wishes, but women will be disproportionately affected by it. It is women who get pregnant, who are sexualized. It is women who suffer the consequences of such a masculine technological world. But your opinion is not taken into account when designing it. I didn't really expect to reach this conclusion: I have come up with a much more feminist book than I thought. But I reflect what I see, women have been left out of the thought of all these technologies.
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