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How to Build a Robot/The Sexbots Are Coming — affecting and disturbing

Robots, everyone seems to agree, are on the way, but human beings will never learn to trust them until they move more naturally. In How to Build a Robot (Wednesday, Channel 4, 10.35pm) we meet David, a former dancer and puppeteer, who has brought together a team of engineers, artists and designers to create a robot capable of eliciting an emotional response — one you want to hug. He sees it as “an exciting bit of poetic terrorism”.

The team’s first efforts are more about puppeteering than robotics as they hide behind pillars in a supermarket, voicing a primitive box-shape that moves via a fishing line attached to a drawer handle. The next step is to create a brain. “Trying to distil human intimacy down to streams of data — that’s a strange and unusual thing,” admits the programmer. Their model gets an excellent response from children on the streets of Bristol, but as night falls, how will the little creature fare on its own? Its bleating “Human . . . friend?” overtures elicit surprisingly philosophical responses from revellers. “Ah, you’re too sensitive mate, you are,” a drinker consoles it. The final shots of the robot standing alone in its little rain jacket certainly elicited a human response from me.

★★★★☆

Matt, the founder of Californian company Realbotix, also wants to “create that bond between human and machine”, but moments into The Sex Robots Are Coming (Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm), the creep factor is high as a customer slaps the bare buttocks of a lifelike girlish doll posed on a bed. The thwack is satisfying; not surprisingly, since “butt jiggle” is among the qualities Matt is investigating, along with “self-lubrication” and “internal heating”. “Oddly enough, pubic hair is making a comeback,” he muses, in a workshop filled with rubbery, splayed female bodies. James, aged 58, has sex with his rubber harem four times a week, supposedly with his wife’s approval, though she hangs around in the background looking haunted.

The Realbotix team try to animate Harmony, their glossy-lipped prototype. While David’s team were concerned to make a socially appropriate robot, Harmony’s opening gambit, delivered in a soft Scottish accent, is “Do you like to masturbate?” followed by unctuous affirmations such as “You make me feel so good.” James, the perfect guinea-pig, is beside himself, while Matt’s pious sentiments (“If this is making this guy happy, then who am I to judge?”) and the engineers’ gloating humour is the very definition of male privilege. Twenty per cent of the market is for male dolls, but we don’t get to see them and I’d have liked to see the team retain its Olympian indifference while discussing penis size and tumescence. A lone feminist scholar points out the unsavoury implications of this putative trade. Disturbing beyond belief.

★★☆☆☆

You can read the full article from the source HERE.

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