Monday, May 14, 2012

Relations with Medieval Robots

Last week, Slate published an article about the technological developments that make it more likely that humans will interact with robots with more intimacy (emotional and sexual). Some of this ground has already been covered in "Lars and the Real Girl," even though Bianca, the "girl," was a sex doll, not a robot. But, as Daniel Wilson points out, David Levy wrote presciently about this in Love and Sex with Robots (2007). Certainly, it seems like this is a zeitgeist-y topic: the summer "offbeat buddy comedy" "Robot and Frank" addresses the relationship between an aging man and his robot caretaker. 

I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently, as I'm currently working on a book chapter that deals with this very issue. While the Pygmalion myth was pretty well known in medieval Europe, I find myself more fascinated by rarer stories of men who fall in love with artificial humans--often copies of recognizable individuals. In one version of the Tristan story, Tristan commands a giant in his debt to make golden statues of Isolde, her serving maid, her dog, and the dwarf who betrayed her to King Mark. Tristan can no longer see Isolde, but is still under the influence of the love-potion. So he uses these golden, moving statues to re-enact his affair with Isolde, and speaks to the statue as if it is his real lover. 

The increased interest in intimate relationships between robots and people makes me wonder if the next step (presaged by the 12th century Tristan story) is robotic copies of actual people, who can replace their human analogues. Medieval is the new modern, people!

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