Make it So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction - "Sex with Technology"


63 Responses to “Make it So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction - "Sex with Technology"”

  1. Inu no Taisho says:

    The author missed one very important sexual machine.  It appeared in the cult classic “A Boy and His Dog”.  The lead character is kidnapped by the denizens of a society that are having trouble reproducing.  He is hooked up to a “sex machine” that will force him to provide sperm for their women who have lined up for the priviledge.  This happens to him despite his assertions that he would gladly bed all of them without the machine.

    Still an old favorite.

    • Gage Ullman says:

      I’m not sure that could be described as a sexual machine, so much as an industrial device.  It’s chief purpose is is extraction and not to deliver a pleasurable sensory experience.  If memory serves, the device begins to get extremely uncomfortable fairly quickly.

  2. The machine only appears in the Director’s Cut of THX-1138. It was added in with CGI. Yes, he couldn’t even leave that alone.

  3. lectroid says:

     They left out the Orgasmatron and Orb from Sleeper. And the Excessive Machine in Barbarella.

  4. timquinn says:

    It’s funny, this commentary suffers from an embarrassment about the subject matter with arms length language and and an intentionally forced humor. I am not denying its strengths and insights. It reaffirms a suspicion I have been playing with that social science may be near impossible to get right. I realize this is not original, but it also confirms my belief that ten years of therapy turned out to be as much about my therapist as it was about me.

  5. SumAnon says:

    Interesting to see that all android examples (save the undiscussed Gigolo Joe picture) are artificial female replacements for male character use.

    • Ian Wood says:

      Odd. In the real world, artificial male replacements for female use are generally well accepted, but artificial female replacements for male use tend to have a bit of a squick factor.

      • SumAnon says:

        The uncanny valley of sexbots? Or perhaps a reflection on the dichotomy of acceptable social expressions of sexuality between the genders (reality-private vs media-public)

      • spazzm3 says:

         Makes sense if you view the films as escapism: 
        It allows men an escape from a reality where sexual aids are frowned upon, but where is the escapism for a woman – she can go to any mall and have her choice of dildos.

      • Halloween_Jack says:

         I don’t think that that’s even really true any more. Fleshlight seems to do decent business, and in my local sex shop there seems to be parity between the selection of dildos and pocket pussies.

    • Boundegar says:

      I found Gigolo Joe startling for just that reason.  Then again, a robot that would satisfy a woman would need a great deal more sophisticated programming than the one for men.  Deep down, we guys are just not that complicated.

    • penguinchris says:

      Data had sex a few times and even had a girlfriend on TNG one time. The relationship ended because while he is a sexpert and “programmed in multiple techniques”, he can not provide for a partner emotionally. Sad episode.

  6. TheMadLibrarian says:

    Does anyone remember the androids from the Star Trek episode “I, Mudd”?  The con man Harry Mudd has landed on a planet populated by androids whose purpose is to serve, and gleefully goes about refashioning them into attractive humanoids.

    • Halloween_Jack says:

      I remember it well. It was remarkable to go back and watch TOS as an adult to see how differently some of the episodes come off, and in particular Harry Mudd, who I’d thought of as a jolly rogue, comes across as incredibly sleazy. In “Mudd’s Women” he gives unattractive women drugs to make them look more sexy and then pretty much sells them to dilithium miners, and in “I, Mudd” he pretty much brags about fucking robots and even shows off several android simulacra of his estranged wife, which he made expressly for the purpose of being able to shut her up (and off). 

  7. gauch0 says:

    What’s that film at the top with Jude Law (or his lookalike)?

  8. autark says:

    Virtual sex where the participants take on a different form (not to a good end): Lawnmower Man.

  9. David White says:

    This reminds me of the sex in Demolition Man where both parties wear VR gear and there is no physical contact. IIRC they even sit on opposite ends of the room.

  10. Tim Drage says:

    “At home after a hard day at work, THX-1138 sits down on a couch and turns on a volumetric projection of a woman dancing sensually to percussive music. A machine drops down from the ceiling, latches on to his penis, and mechanically moves up and down for exactly 30 seconds until he ejaculates.”

    • Stefan Jones says:

       I’ve never seen the unexpurgated 1971 version, but from what I’ve read THX beats off into a simple collection device . . . while watching somebody being beaten up by those chrome-faced cop dudes.

      Lucas . . . what a coward.

      • Itsumishi says:

        They never really show him beating off. They show him watching the dancing girl for a while (where from behind he does seem to be moving a little, and could be beating off), then he starts flicking channels and then he settles on the guy getting beaten.

  11. Missed Cherry 2000 which provided the lesson that sexbots are immaterial when you have a real life woman that can handle heavy weaponry.

  12. Stefan Jones says:

    From written fiction:

    In Frederik Pohl’s “Day Million” the two lead characters meet, fall in love and — after exchanging “analogues” — never meet again. From context, analogues are data models of a person, which are used in direct-brain-stimulation VR sex.

    This was back in 1967.

  13. Brainstorm with Christopher Walken and Natalie Woods.

    An older partner in the research division hooks up a “Sex Tape POV” Brainscanned experience to a loop and nearly kills himself do to overeach.

  14. ffabian says:

    Hmm where are the the prudish USians from the danish sexworker article? Won’t anyone think of the children?!?

  15. RJ says:

    I’m pretty sure if there is ever a “Gigolo Jane” as Ashley Scott portrayed her (see the pic with Jude Law up there), that would mark the end of the human species. Men would be very reluctant to bother with real women if such machines were available.

    •  In the last part of the movie, humanity did indeed become extinct (the reasons for which were never discussed).  The descendents of the “mecha” had an unceasing curiosity about their makers.

    • Halloween_Jack says:

       That’s one possible explanation for the extinction of humanity in Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children, which features a sexbot as the protagonist.

    • Sofia Ortiz says:

      Ouch. I honestly doubt, however, one could be a happy human with no emotional investment from a partner. If one could make a partner that was emotionally invested, it would probably need to be given rights, and then you’d have the same issue over again, except with sapient android women instead of sapient human women.

      Well no worries, one can make another human just fine with only two X chromosomes…

  16. fergus1948 says:

    “A machine drops down from the ceiling, latches on to his penis, and mechanically moves up and down for exactly 30 seconds until he ejaculates.”

    My wife wants to know where we can get a machine that would make me last that long.

  17. paul beard says:

    In written fiction, the feelies in Brave New World seem very close at times. It’s never clear if we’re heading toward Orwell’s authoritarian nightmare or Huxley’s pleasure-besotted one, but perhaps that’s my limited imagination. We could have both.

  18. lecti says:

    ” Could someone choose new shapes, like a swan, or a centaur, or a robot? Exactly how do you want your furry avatar to look?”

    I was wondering what people meant by “unicorn chaser”.

  19. Urbane_Gorilla says:

    And porn sites are chock-a-block with ‘machine sex’ of all varieties….Art imitating life? 

  20. dejoh says:

    “A machine drops down from the ceiling

    Can you imagine the testing before they got this device right?  If things were’nt tweaked just perfect, a subject could lose their unit.

  21. Forced2Register says:

    my guess: regardless of future technology improvements, the own hand will always be the all-time favorite

  22. spejic says:

    In the hilariously bad Robot Holocaust, a robot woman seeks pleasure in a device so bizarre it cannot be described by the English language but only experienced on screen.

    But this seems to close the loop – no people necessary.

  23. Halloween_Jack says:

    You could easily do a whole chapter, or at least a pretty substantial chunk of one, on how the use of the holodeck over the different Star Trek series evolved to the point where its use for erotic gratification could be dealt with openly, while at the same time exploring the question of just when you had to start dealing with your virtual creations (whether erotic or otherwise) as sentient beings in their own right. The original series would occasionally bring up this subject or something similar as part of the Enterprise’s seeking out of new life forms and civilizations; in fact, the first pilot, “The Cage”,  had the psychic Talosians creating a sort of telepathic holodeck which in at least one iteration (the dancing green Orion slave woman) was explicitly erotic. But it and the other flirtations with this subject were just occasional plot devices, not a regular part of the Trek universe.

    Even The Next Generation didn’t deal with this very often, even though the holodeck was introduced in the pilot. In “11001001“, Riker meets a holodeck woman that’s realistic enough to satisfy him, but Picard inadvertently cockblocks him, and it all turns out to be part of a plot to steal the Enterprise anyway; when the plot is resolved, she’s gone. Lieutenant Barclay certainly has no problem using the holodeck for that purpose, but (at least in his first appearance) he’s depicted as a loser who resorts to the holodeck because he can’t handle reality. In Deep Space Nine, the holosuites are seen as a more socially acceptable option for sexual gratification; there’s a whole series of holonovels called “Vulcan Love Slave”, for example, and Jadzia Dax tries to get Major Kira to relax and enjoy a holoprogram that involves hunky masseurs. (That, incidentally, is also possibly the first time the Trek franchise acknowledges that women might be interested in sex purely for physical gratification, which is a little late in the game, IMO, given that female Trekkies invented slashfic in the seventies with Kirk/Spock stories.) DS9 also has a holographic character, 50s-style lounge crooner Vic Fontaine, who is treated as a sentient being in his own right; TNG introduced the idea of hologram sentience with a version of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty, but that episode was resolved in a fashion that seems bizarre, given TNG’s many episodes centered around whether or not Data was a person: Moriarty was downloaded onto a stand-alone server and pretty much forgotten about.

    Finally, Voyager had many episodes centered around the holodeck and hologram characters, logical given the nature of the show (a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy) and the fact that one of the regulars was the Emergency Medical Hologram, aka the Doctor. Captain Janeway, who can’t date anyone aboard the ship and can’t really date anyone else because the ship is always headed toward new territory on its way home, gets it on with a hologram in an Irish village program, then has to deal with the fallout when he figures out that she’s not really “Katie O’Clare” after she makes his character smarter (and also single). The Doctor has sex with a female character in Beowulf, and later brags about it to another EMH; he later gets a big crush on Seven of Nine, and in one episode even gets to possess her via her cybernetic implants (and, as he gleefully runs his/her hands over his/her body, makes it pretty clear what he’d do if he had a bit more privacy). We don’t need to talk about Star Trek: Enterprise because they didn’t have holodecks, so we can look at this progression of increasing frankness about what people would use the holodeck for in the context of the increasing popularity of the internet and its most popular subject.

  24. Always remember to secure the machine to your sexual organ first, before helping someone near you.

  25. BarBarSeven says:

    Late to this thread, but why hasn’t anyone addressed James Brown’s dissertation on the topic?

  26. Marshall McLuhan, as usual, said it best:

    “”Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates man’s love by expediting his wishes and desires, namely, in providing him with wealth.

  27. Sofia Ortiz says:

     What about The Dresden Dolls’ video, “Coin-Operated Boy”? (:

  28. I have spent a short time working in the sex toy industry,THX-1138 would always cross my mind. How will sex be defined in the future? A product that people would always be attracted to is the Realtouch. How will sex and love be defined in ever expanding virtual world? 

  29. Elijah says:

    Not one mention of the Orgasmorator from Orgasmo?  Weaponized sexy happy fun times?  :)

    Best.  Weapon.  Noise.  Evar.

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