I rapped with Patrick Quinlan, author of Sexbot, about Sex Robots, immortality and robot polar bears.
Patrick, thanks for talking to me.
It’s really my pleasure.
Your book is wild. Do you think there ever might come a time when Sexbots are totally normal? That you go over to your buddy’s house to watch the game and have a beer and just see a Sex Robot sitting in the corner? How far away is that?
Normalcy is an insidious thing. The word insidious sounds bad, but I don’t really mean it that way. All I mean is that normalcy has this funny habit of changing ever so gradually, until it’s completely different from what it once was, but no one really notices.
Take porn as an obvious example. When I was a 12-year-old kid, porn was hard to come by. You tended to find porn magazines in garbage dumpsters, or under the bed when you broke into some guy’s apartment while he was out at work. Getting your hands on porn was something that happened once in a rare while. The closest thing to a computer anybody had in those days was Atari.
Nowadays, if you’re a 12-year-old kid, porn is on the computer and right at your fingertips. To avoid porn, you would have to be this devoutly religious kid and try not to look at it.
That didn’t come about overnight. It happened gradually, and now it’s totally normal. There was a time when porn was against the law. Now it’s what’s for breakfast. Did people shout and scream while the change was happening? Sort of. But a lot less than you would have expected.
By the way, I’ve had people write to me about my book Sexbot in a complaining tone, and say, “This isn’t porn.” Yes, I know it isn’t. Haven’t you seen enough porn by now?
I guess my point is that things change. What was once strange and exotic becomes normal. And it happens step-by-step, gradually, so it seems like nothing is happening.
I think the first real Sexbots will be around in a few years from now, but they will be so expensive that only very rich people can afford them. Slowly they will come down in price, like big flat screen TVs did. Your cousin, the disbarred lawyer, will turn up with one, but it will be sort of a rudimentary model. You will feel that he is vaguely pathetic, because he’s the kind of guy who still has a waterbed, and his Sexbot looks more like a store mannequin than a person.
Eventually, you will go over to somebody’s house and there will be two or three Sexbots hanging around in bikinis, chatting and flirting with the guests. The only way you will be able to tell them apart from real young women is that they will be physically perfect, and they will be showing sexual interest in fat middle-aged bastards who you know for a fact are not multi-millionaires.
This will happen sooner than any of us think, and we will hardly notice it happening until afterwards.
There is, of course, a lot of judgment around people that want to bang a robot. Is that what good people do? Look down on people because they want to do sexual shit that is not natural? Or do we all just let our freak flag fly?
Looking down on people who do out-of-the-ordinary things is the glue that holds our world together. It keeps the status quo in place. Once you allow people to start doing things that was forbidden before, that’s when change happens. And that’s when the future comes, good or bad.
We are in a time of great change. So much change that barely anyone seems to remember what it was like before. Oh, curmudgeons write in to the comments sections on websites, bemoaning this or that lost social more, but no one cares what they think. At first people will feel weird when other people start having sex with robots. Older people will judge them harshly. “That’s not how it was in my time.” Younger people will wish they could afford a Sexbot.
After a while, it will all seem totally normal. Why not have a Sexbot? One day, people won’t just want to have sex with robots – they’ll want to marry robots. This will be because the robots will have all the good jobs.
There will be robots doing all kinds of things. Global warming wiped out the polar bears? Hey, you can have a big friendly robot polar bear who lives in your home with you – it’s even better than a real polar bear because it doesn’t want to kill you and eat you. And it talks!
Your Sexbot can ride your polar bear like a horse!
How awesome will that be?
You write a lot of thrillers, Smoked was set in my home town of Portland, Maine, and you wrote a book with the ridiculously badass Rutger Hauer. How did you get on to Sexbots for something to write about?
I had lunch in the dining car of the New York to Miami Amtrak train. And the neat thing about the dining car on the train is there are only about 10 tables, so they make you sit with people you don’t know.
So one day I ate lunch with this rich pervert, a Boston real estate developer, who is afraid of flying. That’s why he was on the train. And when I say rich, I mean tens of millions of dollars rich. One tenth of one percent rich.
This guy, who has had trouble with women (and probably people in general) his whole life, told me that soon, there will be lifelike sex robots. I hadn’t really spent much time contemplating this idea before. Funny you should mention Rutger – the female Replicants in Blade Runner are described as “pleasure models.” But I just didn’t think much about it.
So this real estate developer told me that Sexbots were coming soon – as soon as sex toys like Real Doll could be wed to advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. He thought this would happen in five to seven years (the conversation took place two years ago), and that the robots would likely cost about $100,000 a piece.
At that price, he said he planned to buy three of them.
You have been quoted as saying “There are men, in particular, that want women who are beautiful, agreeable, forever young, ever eager for sex, and who don’t have a lot to say.” That pisses some women off a tad. How prevalent do you think this school of thought is in a man?
I think that a significant minority of men feel this way. I don’t know why a comment like that would piss anyone off, unless it was someone who doesn’t like to deal with reality.
Notice what a lot of wealthy men do as they grow older. They wind up with increasingly younger women. Beautiful women, in many cases, who are decades younger than they are. Why would this be true?
Because of the scintillating conversation? Probably not. Being an old and rich man, and having a beautiful young woman with you, is a lot like having a Sexbot. And generally speaking, rich people do things that a lot of not-rich people would do if they had the money.
Everybody is shallow, women and men. We’re hard-wired that way. It’s part of how we’ve managed to populate every corner of this poor, overburdened planet.
Robots bring to mind immortality and all that shit. Why do you think someone would want to stay alive forever? Do you want to die?
The short answer is no, I don’t want to die. And I think it’s clear why someone would want to live forever – mostly because we don’t know what happens after we die, and it seems possible that we cease to exist. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to cease to exist.
Which brings me to a slightly longer answer. You saw that Darryl Dawkins recently died, right? You probably remember him from when he was a pro basketball player – I sure do. He used to dunk the ball so hard that he shattered the glass backboard a couple of times. They had to change the way they manufactured the baskets because of him.
When he was a player, he was so vital, so energetic, so alive – both physically and personality-wise – that it seemed unlikely he could ever die. It actually seems more likely that he never existed in the first place. He was a daydream we all imagined.
If Darryl Dawkins never existed, that suggests we don’t exist either, at least not in the way we appear to. It’s a liberating thought.
Which brings me to one last idea. In my book Sexbot, people can achieve a sort of immortality by downloading their human awareness into intelligent machines. Suppose for a minute that this were possible. You are no longer your body – in fact you are divorced from it, liberated from it. Since you are inside a machine, now you are essentially a computer program.
Not only could you live a long time, possibly forever, you could live in any way you choose. You wouldn’t have to look like a person. You could be a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, or a star cruiser traveling into deep space. You could be a Sexbot, if you wanted, or some kind of weird warrior Robocop. If you’re the brainy type, you could choose to be a bot crawling the interwebs, digesting information.
Weirder still, you could be one of these things for a time, then choose to be something else entirely. Or you could copy and paste yourself, and be all of these things at once.
That’s the immortality I dream of for you and me.