001: Psychosexual Machines
A writer I am talking to over email about necessary delusions and cruel men tells me this morning that he was talking to “some guy who designs AI for Uber’s self-driving cars.” This guy straight from Silicon Valley thinks humans will be replaced by machines and Geoff disagrees, convinced that so much of human personality is driven by the sexual impulse. What we see reflected in porn, he says, has so much to do with dominance, submission, subjugating others for service, or debasing ourselves. He makes the case that the impulse to be mean is fundamentally an erotic one, and concludes that this is a level of psychoanalytic complexity that machines, really, will never make use of.¹
So much of my draw towards Geoff is his honesty in discussing just how much cruelty can exist in emotional and sexual intimacy. This indeed was unbelievably human, the way trauma evolves into darkness: both the need to delectate pain and the desire to receive it.
This reminds me of Yale Robotics’ Man and the Machine talk, where a researcher discusses several psychological experiments studying the interaction between humans and machines. In one of them, students play rounds of Rock Paper Scissors against a robot, and in the last round, the robot is programmed to cheat. When deceit is programmed, almost every interaction becomes more human; the students laugh, are startled, accuse the robot of being a cheater, make claims of the robot’s morality. It is only when the robot cheats that the students even begin vocal contact with the machine—the previous rounds are dominated by silence and a certain rigidity, like the gap between man and machine could never be bridged, the wall between them never eroded.
I also think about how unintentionally layered the self-disparaging joke I made about wanting to be murdered by a sex robot really is:
There is an interesting tension between:
the idea of machine killing human as accident, without consciousness, motivation, or capacity for malignance
the masochistic / nihilistic desire to be subjected to pain or murdered entirely, and asking that of a machine (do we program it to hurt us? how would we do so to ensure we survived?) and
the current controversy over developing AI with the actual possibility of it eradicating human nature as a whole, whether by accident or calculated intention.
If we could program empathy could we program cruelty? I wonder if it would make machines even more human, that rather than the new Turing Test discerning whether or not a machine can simulate affect, it would actually be more telling to test for sadism.
Here I am thinking a lot about intent. Perhaps machines would never be motivated by the same irrational sexual impulses that drive some of us to act with cruelty and some of us to seek it, but I wonder if this even matters. Would it matter in a future where the competition for resources was purely rational, programmed—and the wiping of the human race wasn't malicious or motivated by anything at all? Would we offer more nuance to a machine if we understood their psychology, even in the face of death? How much would intent weigh anyway, if we don't survive such injury in the end?
There are many ways in which we, too, like computers, learn how to behave to pass as human. The most beautiful and damning thing about our interiority is that it is entirely ours. But more insidiously, this comes at the price of ever being able to know someone else's truth. To be able to accurately discern simulation from sincerity. Human wrong is often perceived through a lens of intention. But at some point we have to recognize that there is an impossibility of ever really knowing what someone else thinks, feels, or intends. Sometimes, the injury is far too great to consider it. ✦
Television adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People is far too calm, and far too tender. Marianne casted way too demure. The book was tumultuous! I wanted to throw up reading it! Now I have the show on as background noise while I clean my apartment. (Update: I have since finished the series, and cried non-stop for 4 whole episodes, so I rescind this take).
Good Nature Market charged me $7.50 for a carton of eggs the other day. COVID-19 has turned town into a gigantic airport: absolutely lawless.
¹ Emails with Geoff Mak (@geoff_mak)