Saturday, March 27, 2010

AC/DC Marriage

Alongside ruder ones, there is a polite word for those who prefer their mates to be made of plastic and wires: technosexuals. (Calvin Klein already has trademarked “technosexual” for some unspecified future product.)

It’s not a new idea. Arguably, the Pygmalion and Galatea myth contains the seeds of it. The plot of Fritz Lang’s 1927 scifi movie classic Metropolis hinges on a sexy robot. My Living Doll was an early ‘60s sitcom. The cult 1987 film Cherry 2000 takes it further. Making Mr. Right, also from 1987, gender-reverses the same idea. Full size dolls costing thousands of dollars (see are a present-day marketing success. Efforts to make true robots both sexually attractive and lifelike continue. Kokoro manufactures and markets some of the most successful (and disturbing) animatronic “actroids.” (See

According to Scientific American, artificial-intelligence researcher David Levy asked a crowd at the Museum of Sex in New York City “Why not marry a robot?” One of the visitors countered by asking if anyone who wanted to marry a robot was deluded. Levy’s response was, “If the alternative is that you are lonely and sad and miserable, is it not better to find a robot that claims to love you and acts like it loves you?”

I suppose I’ve heard less sound arguments for marriage. In both of the 1987 movies mentioned above, the protagonists have to decide between a biological partner and a mechanical one. The two films end opposite ways. In case you haven’t seen them, I’ll let you guess which is which.

There is little doubt that human/robot relationships (if that is the right word) will be part of the future. Whether it ever will cease to be awkward for a technosexual to announce his or her predilections to mom and dad is another question.

Monday, March 15, 2010


People are notoriously hopeless at judging risks and benefits, a fact which provides profits to insurers and windfalls to casinos. We fret over very small risks while blithely accepting big ones. More people are afraid of snakes than of cars, for instance, though only 10 Americans per year, on average, die of snake bites while 40,000 die in their cars. What about the safety of our kids? There never (as in “not ever”) has been a single death reported from marijuana overdose, while a dozen teenagers die on football fields in a typical year. What activity have we made illegal?

The “savanna principle” is probably at the bottom of this. Human brains are not hard-wired to understand anything that didn’t exist in the ancestral environment where they evolved. Cars didn’t exist 10,000 years ago, so, while we can grasp the dangers intellectually, we don’t feel them viscerally – not in the way we feel the dangers of poisonous snakes, which were plentiful. Viscerally is the way we make most of our decisions, despite the self-flattering “Sapiens” in Homo Sapiens.

Our poor risk assessments often counteract efforts to keep us safe. Again, cars offer a good example. When drivers know they have four-wheel drive or better brakes, they drive faster and less carefully even in bad weather conditions. Insurers in the UK once offered discounts to drivers of cars with safer brakes. ‘They don't anymore,’ says John Adams, a risk analyst and emeritus professor of geography at University College. There was no reduction is accidents.

There probably is no getting around our emotional responses to different types of risks and opportunities. However, our cortex is good for something, and it behooves us to double check those responses occasionally to see if they make any sense. It might save us some grief.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Where We’re All Better-Looking at Closing Time

For any number of reasons, Australia is one of the world’s most enjoyable countries to visit. In addition to the more commonly noted attractions, there is a special appeal for single men, at least for those who rely heavily on impaired judgment in their prospective dates:

“SYDNEY (Reuters) - Two out of three Australian women binge drink, with some knocking back more than 11 alcoholic beverages in a single sitting, according to a survey.”

With that blood serum level, perhaps even Franky’s monster could find a bride at closing time without troubling Vic to sew more bodies together.

According to the UN World Drug Report, Aussies also smoke slightly more marijuana per capita than Americans. Unless the amorous traveler carries around a pocketful of snacks, though, this may not help much. Do Americans score high on any impairment chart? Regrettably, yes. More Americans than Australians use hard drugs, but no closing time is late enough to make that attractive.