Robot mysogynyRobot fantasies and fetishisation!

That got your attention didn’t it?  Sadly this will not be a titillating discussion about sexbots and AI girlfriends, (although as the former Head of Training for Ann Summers I do have some projects on the backburner…) but we will be considering the impact of the attractive rush that an AI can deliver as it kicks in our pleasure receptors through the delivery of an optimal service. A robot that could predict when my milk will run out, pre-orders via Ocado and syncs with my diary to know when I am home next? Yes please.

The key attraction of an intelligent machine is that it will always be optimal, and will never disappoint.  Handy for the world’s ‘have-enough’ people, but what about the world’s ‘have-nots’? On a deeper level, what will it mean for us humans if we only ever experience an optimal service? What about the inspiration we get from being delighted or surprised? And what does it mean for our self-image as a species regarding our intelligence and productivity when comparing ourselves with the “perfection” of AI?  

With online porn being accessed by many school-age boys on their phones, providing the basis for much of their informal relationship education, there are massive implications for the impact technology is having on what being a ‘normal, real, flawed-in-its beauty human’ actually means. Sometimes forgetting the milk reminds us that we are ‘only human’; the precious reality of our finite lifespan.

Whether it is the depiction of AI as the ideal girlfriend in Spike Jonze’s Her (unfailingly available, interested, supportive and undemanding.  Sounds like all of us at the start…), or the knowledge that AI is about to revolutionise the banking industry, there is a clear message emerging due to the computational power that has not been available before: we simply cannot hope to compete with AI software.  

Let’s look at why we are falling for the concept of AI.  Well, its service delivery contract is fairly compelling, what human can, or indeed would want to, realistically promise;

  • Unquestioning servitude
  • 100% focus and availability 24/7
  • 0% failure rate
  • that everything is awesome and optimal at all times

These are fairly seductive promises.  I’d swipe right for that. Predictability and reliability protect us from the ever-shifting chaos that life can be sometimes, so AI will never disappoint.  However, by extension, it will never be able to delight us. I believe that humans are so deliciously complex that this lack of surprise or delight is just not spiritually nourishing enough for us. We like things a little messy.

When we hear British actors in LA complain about the gorgeous, reliable weather starting to become monotonous and that they are pining for the chilly discomfort of grey British drizzle clinging to their skin, it can grate somewhat. But there is a germ of truth in there. The banality of optimal.

Recently I considered having my garden lawn replaced with fake grass.  Perfect, bright green grass all year round, and no need to get the bloody mower out ever again (or ask Dadbot…) An optimal solution!  Or was it…

Take a deep breath and think of your childhood memories of summer.

Most likely they will involve either the smell of fresh cut grass, or the feel of it stuck to the bottom of your feet, or the sight of it carpeting the bottom of the paddling pool, or trailed through the house after Mum had just Hoovered. Feeling a pang of loss, how could I deny my daughter this shared experience of childhood in order to “optimise” our family garden? Suddenly the allure of fake grass seemed all at once a bit…fake.  

Without coming over all Cher from Clueless about it all, I do believe there is phenomenal opportunity ahead for us and our children to co-exist with AI; with the aim to upgrade our lives, both in quality and lifespan. I do love a smart robot (I have made a tentative first step to purchase a Pepper…) but I love real people more. I believe the fundamental duty facing us all is to not let go of the magic bits, requiring us first to distinguish fantasy from reality!

robot boyfriend

One of my Key Principles of Workplace AI is to “Be Unique or Become Extinct”: to protect our relevance in the workplace we must maximise our human potential, and make sure we do the things that only humans can do reallywell! No human could ever hold as much knowledge as Google, Siri or Viv, but what we do have is fluid intelligence.

As yet, human curiosity cannot be synthesised, and thus it should be nurtured and respected.  Facial expressions and vocal tone are our tools to emotionally connect to our friends and colleagues. Make eye contact, listen (properly!) and try to be sympathetic/empathetic. A robot can learn how to develop rapport, but intimacy is uniquely human.

There are limitations to only experiencing ‘optimal’. As we move forward in the Age of AI, we  need to focus on the experiences that stretch and enrich us beyond the algorithm; joy, surprises, adversity, serendipity, risks, scenic routes… You get the idea; all that gloriously turbulent and unpredictable human stuff! This one is to all you lovers out there.

The robots are coming, look busy!

Laura x

If you think you need some help separating fantasy from reality, you can enhance your EQ and upgrade your humanness at a WishFish workshop on emotional intelligence and personal resilience. Please email Gail (she’s human) on for more information.

[wp_sitemap_page only=”page”]