Social Failure And Market Success

Each passing year, we hear both of new advancements and new controversies in the field of real dolls, sex dolls, and VR porn. These advancements will inevitably change the social landscape and most likely contribute to various social problems, but on the other hand they are also the result of the social landscape. These things are not merely produced in isolation.

Despite my indifference and even dislike of these things, I can’t help but admire them on a technological level. Just having the robot speak requires coordinating a whole team of engineers on the hardware side and programmers on the software side to get those movements close enough to the real thing.

There are artists who construct accurate, yet artificial faces from models and stock images. The robot’s speech might come from an actual human voice actor, which is then sent through programming algorithms that change the pitch and tone to mimic human emotions. Human words flow into each other from word to word, sentence to sentence, and body language makes up for the majority of our unconscious speech. Any malfunction in the motors or delay with the voice will break the illusion.

Think of how the material engineers will need to make a body of false flesh with the same density as the real thing. Skin needs to feel and move like skin. False bones need to make the limbs feel real. And the whole thing needs to smell like a human and not like plastic or silicone.

How many chemical engineers would it take just to get the scent right? How many hours would the prototype spend in QA testing? How many different variants would need to be produced for consumer tastes? Even getting these things to walk upright like a normal human would take thousands upon thousands of man-hours of research and testing.

Those limitations lead critics to say that these robots will never leave the uncanny valley, or that reaching true fidelity with that of a real person will take decades of research. However, critics of those critics say you don’t need perfect fidelity to ensure that consumers buy them. Right now, there are people who get off to fur suits and go on dinner dates with body pillows. Anime characters make up a huge portion of porn and erotica. Their designs have next to no bearing on actual human anatomy, and are sometimes preferred over the real thing.

In short, we don’t need perfect fidelity to satiate these consumers.

That makes the finish line a lot closer than we think, and using virtual reality to smooth over the limitations of physical forms makes the goal that much closer. Now, we’re not talking about timescales of potential decades, but of years.

Think about the number of people employed in this endeavor. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of engineers, material engineers, programmers, developers, chemists and chemical engineers, models and voice actors and speech specialists, human behaviorists and psychologists, even maybe a few silver-tongued cads thrown in as consultants. How many investors are throwing in millions of dollars into this potential product? How many consumers are waiting in the wind for certain milestones to be achieved to justify their purchase? And how expensive will these things be when they are released? Here we have an industry of vast complexity and technology, working as market forces do, but it’s all for a product that already exists.

Last I checked, there are actual flesh and blood women still hanging around. They haven’t all been spirited away. So why the million and even billion dollar industry to supply, basically, a vagina? I mean, if you’re a man with sufficient clout, or physique, or speaking ability you should find a woman. What gives?

The reasons are many for this, way too many to explain in just a single post, but what is evident at a fundamental level to all of this is that a social failure, or a myriad of social failures, has led to a market picking up the slack and taking the responsibility to provide for those demands.

An economist would say that the market is there to fulfill human demand, but there are human demands that were not always solved by the market. We have a demand for good and loving parents. We have a demand for companionship. We have a demand for love, for friendship, for a fulfilling sex life. All of these things were once provided by social forces, not market forces, but when those social forces degrade to such a degree that they cannot perform the task, the market will.

Let’s say you were to move to a new city and you desire to meet people. If the neighborhoods are sociable and welcoming, then you have fulfilled that need by simply meeting your neighbors. The same principle applies if the area has strong church attendance, or a local music culture, or even pickup groups for kickball in the park. If your area has none of those, and most do not, then you have to get on the Internet, make a profile on some meetup site, and allow technology to play the matchmaker. Even if the site is free, you still have to endure the advertisements. At the end of the day, someone is making money off you.

So when you can’t find a good woman (or man) out there due to societal decline, the market makes a plastic one for you to buy. When we don’t have adequate or strong families, we either have to pay for their maintenance through goodies and distractions, or we pay for the therapy of dealing with them. If we don’t have friends, we either pay for the aforementioned websites, or we pay for the objects that relieve our loneliness. If we don’t have lovers, we pay for the services to find us lovers, and in the absence of that, we pay for the devices that replace them.

The bean counters think this is great because all this spending contributes to GDP, and the merchants like this arrangement because they’re making money by providing a valuable service, and by all appearances we have advanced in some economic capacity, but it is all sleight of hand. Gains in one area only mean we have lost in another.

And make no mistake: the advent of sex bots and virtual porn are not things that come about simply because technology reaches that apex. They aren’t the result of some inevitable, technological determinism. Rather, they exist because of the erosion of strong social networks and influences. Banning the tech won’t fix the core issues. People will only find something else to fulfill that demand, and it’s not like their new fixation will be any healthier than the previous one.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that technology is downstream from society and culture, and that it’s important to keep society healthy, so that you can avoid technological Band-Aids.

This particular market wouldn’t need to exist in a society with healthy social institutions satiating the demand. There’d be no need to pay for something you get for “free,” no investor would throw money at it, and there’d be no need to employ all these people to produce it.

All the engineers and chemists and psychologists and consultants can work on other, more productive things. Instead of an engineer trying to perfect the facial motors of a robot to get that naturally-occurring expression, you can instead get them working on medical prosthetics to actually benefit people. Instead of someone developing fake skin for a sex bot, you get engineers working in materials research for something more important. And at the end of the day, you don’t have to pay for services that are provided for free and provided better.

In short, social technology needs to be maintained and developed alongside material and economic technology. Neither should truly dominate the others, and they must all work in balance and in concert. Many people scoff at social studies and sociology today and see correctly that it is almost entirely focused on things that don’t really matter. Privilege and oppression studies are not the same things as social engineering, and they don’t produce positive results. Those critics then write off sociology as useless, “soft” and ineffective, and I’m not going to argue against them. However, it is because those studies are currently ineffectual and because we are currently experiencing a social decline that underscores the importance of Sociology with a capital S.

Sometime in the future, after a massive paradigm shift, we might consider Sociologists as on par with Chemists, Physicists, and Engineers. The only reason we don’t is because the social science department has been redirected into non-productive ends.

Imagine a world where chemistry was outlawed due to fears of unnatural and hazardous chemicals. Imagine a world where biology or genetics was considered heresy. Or perhaps imagine a world where physics or mathematics was considered so sacred as to be held solely with the Church of Divine Geometry. All would be the setting for dystopian novels, and yet we live in a world where that happened to sociology and the social sciences.

Obviously, the merchants and special interests would not want their potential profits to go away. They would side with the anti-social left to upkeep an unhealthy society that forces you to pay for these sorts of things.

Not only is a healthy social structure important in its own right, but it also results in greater technological efficiency because society is not spending energy, materials, and man-hours to provide something technologically that would otherwise be provided socially. This frees up resources and labor to pursue technological solutions for technological problems, thereby increasing the pace of overall development. There is no need for meetup websites in a world where you can meet your neighbors. There is no need for expensive sex dolls in a world where you can simply meet your partner.

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11 Comments

  1. Loved it.

  2. Such an excellent article. You summarize the relationship between social failure/success and market failure/success very well.

    It’s something that has bothered me for a while — what is the world-historical significance of technology? One might assume that the progress of technology tracks the advancement of civilization, and yet the intuitive apex of European civilization was — by various measures — several hundreds of years prior to the technological apex. We may not even have reached the apex yet, and our civilization is collapsing around us.

    I’m not unaware that even my notion of the progress of technology is potentially a Whig notion.

    One way to solve this problem is to consider technology something neutral, or sub-divide technology into good and bad technology. Going to the moon is great technology (I think…). VR sex bots are definitely bad technology, as we can plainly see their genesis in the wake of a dying organic human culture. We can’t praise a technology if its creation was spurred by a dying organic human culture, unless we want to replace organic human cultures with technological facsimiles. That sounds like a very riskey bet to make, and a bet only someone who was a casualty of a dying organic human culture would even consider.

    1. I don’t think any technology should be considered ‘bad’ technology. Most tech simply IS, it’s how it’s used that may be the problem. We instinctively feel disgust for sex-bots as a perversion or as morally wrong, but we can’t actually articulate why. Dave makes the only possible argument against them here, pointing out that they are a symptom, not a problem in and of themselves. But technology can lead to surprising breakthroughs. What if, in the process of creating life-like sex robots, we stumble upon a way to provide synthetic bodies for people in wheelchairs? Or for researchers? Bodies that can withstand the rigors of deep ocean testing, but provide full sensory input?

      No technology is inherently wrong, but the balance must be maintained, or it’s certain we’ll be in a science fiction dystopia.

      1. ”What if, in the process of creating life-like sex robots, we stumble upon a way to provide synthetic bodies for people in wheelchairs?”

        And even that wouldn’t be a necessity if we are able to restore biologically the bodies of those who are in wheelchairs. Through nerve regeneration via stem cell technology and other techniques or using genetic engineering technique for the degenerative disease before people can be afflicted with degenerative disease in the 1st place.

        Just like it is with sex-dolls now.

      2. Technology shouldn’t compensate for biological weakness like prosthetics but to shore up and fix biological weakness. Like a regrown arm that is reattached to the amputated stump.

      3. No, there are technologies that are inherently wrong, or technological packages that are inherently wrong. Technology has a purpose; if that purpose is morally wrong, the technology is morally wrong.

        Sexbots are a great example. Non-conjugal sex (that is, sex outside marriage, or sex inside marriage not aimed at the proper object of sex) is wrong. Technology expressly designed to aid non-conjugal sex is therefore wrong.

        Could we take pieces of the sexbot industry and turn them to good purposes? Sure. Synthetic skin just like the real stuff would be a boon to burn victims everywhere. This doesn’t change the fact that sexbots are wrong.

  3. The Dissenting Sociologist May 20, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Sadly, academic sociology has become a severely decayed and dilapidated structure infested with kooks and charlatans. extraordinarily frivolous and foolish in its concerns, awash in trivial and dreadfully banal output that nobody reads or should, and which overall has earned the public scorn that today is heaped upon it. The good news is what’s still truly alive and kicking in the sociological tradition has seemingly migrated to the online dissident Right, where it flourishes without being retarded by all the ridiculous things that go on at the University.

    That said, it’s hard to see how sociology of any form will ever be in a position to deliver technological results on a par with what the non-human sciences have achieved. Physicists have physical matter they can go to work on, chemists, chemical matter, and so on; but there is no similarly concrete social matter that the social engineer can directly alter and manipulate. A culture exists only as an average mental state in a set of individuals, not as a physical substance like DNA that can be diced-and-spliced in a lab; much like the concept of the Divine in various pantheist imaginings, it is everywhere and nowhere, a cause that exists only in its effects. The most you can realistically hope to get out of sociology in terms of effectual technical know-how is some advice on routine policy development. The rest is humanistic learning and should be treated as such, viz. pursued for gentlemanly self-cultivation and not utility.

  4. Arthur Marian May 20, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    If we leave our repulsion aside, what are we talking about, here? We are talking about the creation of Human facsimiles which may act, react, and behave like their organic prototypes. For better or worse the porn industry has fueled IT research and manufacture to a phenomenal extent. I see a convergence happening in the near future with this branch of technology with what is happening with artificial intelligence, where quite sane AI researchers are predicting that in the next quarter century a self-aware AI will be created.

    The ageing population of Japan has the government there funding research for domestic and nursing drones – at present they look and act like comic characters, but in the future they will, I’m sure, more closely resemble ordinary Human beings. What will the future bring? At first soldiers, firemen, crash-test dummies, rescuers, policemen, then nurses, and who knows? Doctors, researchers, scientists, astronauts, maybe even political leaders?

    This will be a social revolution on such a huge scale that the issue of having sex with a robot will seem a minor irrelevance. Will this be a “good “thing?” Who knows? But it’s coming.

    1. Dr. Johnson was very excited.

      He and his team had been working on the AI bots for almost a decade.

      It was almost time.

      “The OS has been uploaded, doctor.” said Sadiq.

      “Thank you, Sadiq. Please get the rest of the team.”

      The team shuffled into the room. Li and Kuzolenko were behind the glass screen with the android. The staff outside the door watched with dull brown eyes.

      Dr. Johnson prepared to push the button.

      With one little push, the singularity would — hopefully — finally begin. All of humanity would be elevated to a transcendental state through the exponential explosion of intelligence of this new, perfect AI.

      Then Sadiq exploded and three men with old FN FALs burst into the room and mowed down the team in a hail of bullets. The police delayed a SWAT response, anticipating a hostage situation, but the attackers were only interested in a high body count.

      Half the building collapsed in the end, following some dedicated bomb placement by Sadiq’s friends.

      Al-Qaeda praised the act of war on the infidel mystics the next morning.

      President Clinton appeared on CNN to warn us not to succumb to Islamophobia. She announced a new federal program to confiscate and allocate useless funds — such as those put up for “ey ay” research — and repurpose them for Muslim outreach inititatives.

      After all, we will never manage to build AI without the valuable input from our diverse Muslim community. How will we get their input if we are still being Islamophobic? Diversity is our greatest strength!

  5. Which underlines the thing I have been saying, civilization is created, maintained and developed mostly by sacrifices, most importantly by sacrifices.

  6. 1) I’m calling it now: “sexbots” will never be remotely mainstream, any more than Real Dolls are currently. Very few people will want to own a large, expensive symbol of their own complete social failure, and have to do things like wipe their own bodily fluids off it regularly. You cite things like waifu body pillows and Japanese dating sims, but these are tiny niches and likely to remain so.
    2) VR headsets will obviously be used for porn (they already are, I imagine) but that’s really just an incremental change from watching porn on a screen.
    3) The big social apocalypse you’re predicting, where millions of men give up on dating and use a technological substitute, has already happened. It’s called pornography and it is ubiquitous.

    These are nitpicks though. Your basic point is very good: that just because something is economically successful doesn’t mean it’s actually good for humanity. I would add Facebook and (arguably) smartphones as other examples of tech breakthroughs that have been net losses for the species.

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