When it comes to love and romance, there’s nothing like the ideal fit. Compatibility is a crucial factor in any successful relationship. You’d like to share your life with someone who has an appealing… interface. So why not marry a piece of tech designed to satisfy?
That seems to be the thinking of 20-year-old Florida woman Noorul Mahjabeen Hassan, who’s dating the video game Tetris and hopes to consecrate the union. “I think Tetris is so beautiful, he is about perfection and he stimulates your mind,” she’s said about her beau of more than a year. “Physically I get that feeling that people in relationships get — that you know they are the right one.” By age 10, she’d found she was attracted to iPods and monorails, she told the hosts of British talk show This Morning, and before hooking up with Tetris, she was intimately involved with a calculator (which sadly broke).
When conservatives mount their bad-faith “slippery slope” argument against same-sex partnership, they say it opens the door to polygamy, bestiality, and incest — offering an awkward projection of their own taboo fantasies. But even as that dreaded shitshow of depravity has failed to materialize, we’ve seen headlines about people like Hassan, who exhibit an affection for gadgets that goes beyond mere geekery.
Last fall, a self-described “machinist” named Chris Sevier sued the state of Alabama for not recognizing his marriage to a computer. A couple of dudes prefer sex with cars, with one getting caught in a tryst with a Land Rover. A Japanese man who goes by “Sal 9000” married Nene Anegasaki, a Nintendo video game character; a church in Guam provided the blessing. Aaron Chervenak got hitched to his iPhone in a Vegas chapel, presumably as a stunt, yet spoke movingly of the decision: “We connect with our phones on so many emotional levels,” he said. “We look to it for solace, to calm us down, to put us to sleep, to ease our minds, and to me, that’s also what a relationship is about.”
The most committed futurist of the bunch is Zheng Jiajia, an artificial intelligence engineer who, sick of seeking human companionship, opted to wed a robot he’d built himself, in a traditional Chinese ceremony attended by his family. That bond isn’t recognized in the bureaucratic sense, but according to A.I. expert David Levy, human-robot marriage may be legal by 2050, and it’s practically a given that early adopters like Zheng will drive any shift in opinion on the practice. No doubt his is a canny bet; while the rest of us bully and torture our soon-to-be robot overlords, he’s making sure the machines who run the world of tomorrow view him as a caring soul, committed to their happiness and fulfillment. Unless, that is, they take offense at his presumption in marrying a device incapable of refusing his proposal. Who’s to say what A.I. will think of matrimony once we start programming them to understand it, especially seeing as humans themselves have never quite agreed on what it can or should mean?
For now, we are left to sort out our erotic and/or romantic attachments to non-sentient tech. The term “technosexual” evokes a passion for digital aesthetic that borders on the libidinous, and if you’ve ever seen an interview with someone online to buy the new iPhone, you’re familiar with the orientation. One curious upshot of this mindset is that we’re somewhat less attracted to Tinder hotties than Tindering itself — the app’s design, the ritual, the purely theoretical hookups and no-stakes flirtation.
Then you have “mechaphilia,” which describes a more emphatically physical connection to vehicles and appliances, including motorcycles, washing machines, and lawn mowers. Here, it would appear, the focus is arousal generated by the coupling of organic and industrial, nonliving components, setting it somewhat apart from “robot fetishism,” which encompasses a range of behaviors and fixations from sexual robot cosplay to fantasies of a truly synthetic partner or turning into an android oneself.
For these folks, who sometimes go by the label “ASFR,” after a message board called “alt.sex.fetish.robots,” the blurring of the human and the artificial is paramount; one common trope is peeling back skin to find circuitry underneath. On a deeper level, there’s a concern with the “programming” of a (typically female) sexbot, the system of control in the dynamic between a person and their creation. Again, these machines resemble us but cannot give consent — when they break such boundaries, they become basic femme fatales.
Clearly, these notions reinforce troubling attitudes toward flesh-and-blood women; fembots are a desirable alternative only so long as they don’t challenge male authority. Even in a “loving” relationship, the machine is totally submissive, the perfect alternative for red-pill bros who have lost all hope for heterosexuality. If robo-relationships merely serve to absorb or displace straight men’s basic hostility toward other genders and identities, they don’t bode well for the next generation of sexual politics overall.
That’s what makes Hassan’s special fondness for Tetris a rather more hopeful story than most of what you read about marriage between some dude and his favorite gizmo: It reveals that a greater nuance and genuine empathy is possible in these pairings. Her previous crushes included treadmills and a GPS screen, interactive objects that give something back besides mere orgasm when handled correctly. If nothing else, Hassan shows us that technology is worthy of respect and adoration. Nobody likes feeling used or taken for granted, and soon enough, the machines may develop that exact resentment. I don’t want to end up in couples’ counseling with a robot wife — do you?