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L Is for Lovebot


Ever since the birth of science-fiction, mankind has luridly dreamed of a monumental leap in the science of robotics. Of simulacrums in soft, dappled flesh made of silicon and polymers. Of brains programmed to love — not with candy and compliments — but with precise mathematical precision. Of Lovebots.

Surprisingly, the idea of a lovebot is as old as the idea of robots themselves. If we want to trace lovebots back to the origin of the word “robot,” we need only look to Karel Čapek’s 1921 play R.U.R., where a robotic version of the protagonist’s wife makes an appearance, deemed a Robotess. But that’s only technically the first lovebot. In Homer’s Iliad, the mechanical god Hephaestus created two moving female statues out of gold, “living young damsels with minds and wisdom.” Hadaly, the mechanical woman from Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Tomorrow’s Eve not only has the honor of being literature’s first android, but also one of its first lovebots.

In celluloid, the theme is similarly strong. Fritz Lang’s 1927 art-deco masterpiece, Metropolis, features one of the most memorable Lovebots in history: A cruel gynoid replacement of the beautiful, evangelical Maria, whose reputation is ruined by its provocative sex club dances through the gyrations of which it compels the workers to destroy the infamous “Heart Machine” powering the city. The Bride of Frankenstein is another lovebot, though admittedly it requires a loose interpretation of the word “bot.” In that film, Henry Frankenstein is compelled to create a mate for his Monster with the aid of Pretorius. Whether or not the Bride is a robot is subject to debate, but she is at the very least a cyborg, and built exclusively as an outlet for the Frankenstein Monster’s love.

John Hughes’ 1985 sexploitation classic Weird Science is, in many ways, a callback to Bride of Frankenstein,
so no surprise that it features one of the most memorable lovebots in
cinematic history. Lisa, played by Kelly LeBrock, is a simulation of
the “perfect woman”… as determined by the expert judgement of two
mouth-breathing dweebs. Feeding images from Playboy magazine
into their computer and harnessing both a lightning storm and the power
of a government mainframe, Lisa springs to life, imbued with
inexplicable supernatural powers. Much to the boys’ dismay, Lisa never
does get around to sleeping with her creators, but does teach them a
thing or two about the art of seduction.

References to robots used for sexual pleasure are so diverse in cinema that it’s hard to stop citing examples. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner features Daryl Hannah as a punkish pleasure model. Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s A.I. stars Jude Law as an android gigolo named Joe who helps a robot little boy on his Pinocchio-like quest to become a real human boy. Mr. Universe — the galactic hacker and information dealer in Joss Whedon’s Serenity — is married to a lovebot in a quiet, Jewish affair. And skipping from cinema to TV, we have Battlestar Galactica‘s
Caprica Six, a “skinjob” who seduces Gaius Baltar into give her codes
that will allow her to carry off the complete genocide of the human

But we don’t need to look to fiction to see lovebots: They’re
already here. RealDolls — eerily life-like sex dolls sold to
enthusiasts too shy, awkward or busy for a real lover — become
increasingly animatronic by the moment, just waiting for someone to
slap a mechanical brain into their hollow latex skulls. And researchers
around the world are trying to perfect various robotic technologies for
specific use in lovebots. That may seem perverse, but Slashdot
makes an excellent point: “It is hard to think of a bigger killer app
for software and computing than sexbots.” AI Guru David Levy’s 2008
book Love + Sex With Robots thinks that in the future, loving robots (whether emotionally, sexually or both) won’t only be common. It’ll be ubiquitous.

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