Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

Unintended Consequences; or, Get Off Of My Lawn!

My parents worked through poverty,
Through hardship and through strife,
In part so we, their children, had
A better chance at life

And we, their sons and daughters,
With our parents’ words well heeded
Have worked so that our children, too
Have better lives than we did.

To make the world a better place
Each generation’s toiled…
And when it worked, our folks complained
That kids these days are spoiled.

So I’ve been helping, these past few days, my niece move into her new apartment, preparing for grad school. My parents were also visiting at the time, and helping as well.

And so it is that we know how much bigger this apartment is than the one they started out in, and how they got by with just two cooking pans, cracked plates, mismatched cutlery, and let’s not even get started on things like a TV. “The one thing we couldn’t give you is the one thing that did the most for us, and that’s poverty.”

I’m calling bullshit. This is the same romanticizing of the past that leads people to vaccine denialism–people were stronger back when they had to struggle with measles, polio, and whooping cough. Kids these days have it too easy, with their vaccines, their child labor laws, their health care, and an infrastructure that puts the accumulated knowledge of the world at their fingertips. We didn’t have computers back then, and we are better for it.

Back when my parents actually were poor (and even then, I suspect their own parents had a different view of it–my dad’s father built their house by hand, even digging the basement himself, so quit your complaining about a small apartment someone had already built)… where was I? Oh, yeah, back when my parents actually were poor, poverty was not a character builder, it was something to be escaped, or better yet, avoided. Any decent human being would work so that their children would not have to experience the poverty they did.

And it worked. Well, it worked for some, my privileged self included. My parents gave me a start that their parents could not give them. I tried, and mostly succeeded, to do the same thing for my children. As did my siblings. As did countless other parents, generations of people doing their best to change the world for the better. Our power grid is better (well, at present it is aging); our water and waste systems are better; our telecommunication structure, our food distribution, our information superstructure, all better (again, for the privileged, including my parents and my family).

It worked. Now, my kids and nieces and nephews, and their generation, can answer questions in seconds, that we had to find a library and look for appropriate sources and hope they were available and yadda yadda yadda… and which my parents’ generation might not have even attempted to answer, or asked in the first place. The world is different; it always is. It was not better to have to work for those particular answers, it was just more difficult. Now that the answers can be found easily, the newer generation can spend that effort pushing the envelope. Look at the astounding progress of science in recent decades; in part, that is possible because technology has made the difficult tasks easier, so that the hard work can be devoted to the hard tasks.

We should not romanticize poverty. If we do, it is too tempting to choose not to fight it. And just as childhood illnesses could have long-reaching consequences that last decades, poverty has long-reaching consequences, that can span decades and cultures. Vaccines can spare us much of the cost of these diseases. Education and health care are a good start at sparing us the costs of poverty.

And when it works, we should appreciate that success, not belittle it. It makes no sense at all to promote doing easy things the hard way, when we have enough hard problems to go around.

So, yes, my niece has a nice apartment. Congratulations, Grandma and Grandpa–you have succeeded in making the world a better place for your kids and theirs. Thank you, sincerely and from the bottom of my hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you. And think–if she were starting out as you started out, all your hard work would have been for nothing.

So hush now, and be proud–of her, and of yourselves. And watch, cos it’s her turn now to work on the hard problems. And because we have some real hard problems, aren’t you glad you gave her a running start?

Feelings And Actions

He felt he was in love again—so many years had passed
And every time he saw her face, his heart would beat so fast

It happened out in public—you could see it all along
But surely, it was out of love, and could not, thus, be wrong

He never hid his feelings—he was sure to let them show
And because he signed her paychecks, well, she couldn’t tell him ‘no’

He never went ‘too far’, of course—that anyone could tell
And if she felt uncomfortable, she hid it very well

He always was a charmer—he never was a jerk
He loved the way her hair would gleam, and she? She needed work.

He acted out of love, you see—it couldn’t be his fault
He saw it as a friendship… but she saw it as assault.

There is no end to the “advice” given to the victims of sexual harassment and assault. They should have done this differently, or that differently, or worn different clothes, or not smiled, or smiled more, or not been so friendly, or not so distant, or any of dozens of other mutually impossible things. So you can look for that advice elsewhere. This is for the people who are actually at fault.

I had a friend who engaged in sexual harassment. I was there when it happened, and did not see it. This advice is your chance to learn from my mistake. (The harassed woman did go to my friend’s supervisor, and he was disciplined and counseled, and the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. All of which I learned about much later, when I learned that what I had been witnessing was, in fact, harassment.)

My friend openly confided that he was utterly smitten with X. They seemed to have a great working relationship. She was working in his lab, on an honors project, gathering and crunching data. He was her advisor. I could go into more detail, but I’d rather not.

Now, it is entirely possible that he knew exactly what he was doing, and was deliberately manipulating the situation–including my own perceptions of what was happening–to his own end. That is quite possible. But I’m going to assume, for now, that what he told me was honest, was his very real reaction, and that he had no intention of harm whatsoever.

He was still in the wrong. He was still harassing, creating a hostile workplace, and perhaps more. It was not up to her to make his boundaries clear; he was in a position of power over her. It does not matter what his motivation was; what matters is his behavior, and his behavior was inappropriate.

Our culture thrives on stories of motivation, especially the ultimate motivation, love. Romantic comedies show us that stalking is ok, as long as it is for true love (which will be rewarded in the final reel). The old fogeys among us might remember what a cultural event it was when Luke and Laura got married; they met, of course, when he raped her. Love conquers all.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that my friend was in love (or claimed to be–for today’s purposes, I am assuming he is being honest). Actions do not have to be motivated by a desire for control, or power, or dominance; behavior does not have to reflect misogyny, or hatred, or disdain. The road to criminal behavior may be paved with the best of intentions.

Motivation is no excuse. Don’t search your feelings; look at your behavior. If you are in a privileged position, it is never up to your subordinate to set limits. By the time someone corrects your behavior, you have gone too far.

His case is what changed my thinking on this–I hope that, in a similar situation, I would now know better. I did nothing at the time, because I saw nothing. I was looking at his motivation, not at his behavior. I was wrong.

Learn from my mistake.

Why Can’t You Just Meet Me Halfway?

I love to start fires; it’s just what I do—
I’ve started them all over town—
But recently, folks have begun to complain,
And they’re working on shutting me down.

I’m just having fun, but they say that it’s wrong;
I’m a danger, or that’s what they say
I want lots of fires; they’re screaming for none:
Why can’t they just meet me half way?

I’ve asked them to sit and negotiate terms
But they’ll call me “extremist”, I’ll bet—
They’re ranting and raving; I’m asking politely…
Just how many fires can I set?

Cuttlecap tip to Dana, under the radar.

On Monsters

He’s a monster; he’s not human—
He’s the devil in disguise!
The embodiment of evil;
You can see it in his eyes!
No iota of morality
No evidence of soul
Where a man should have a human heart
This demon has a hole.

His behavior was horrific—
Inexcusable, in fact;
No real human could have done it
It’s a horrid, beastly act
If he’d had the slightest conscience
He’d be overcome with shame…
So let’s sentence him to torture;
We can treat him just the same!

Let’s imprison him with Bubba
Where he never will escape
Take his time, to learn the lesson
On the other side of rape
We can chain him; we can whip him,
We can break a rib or two…
Cos he has to learn, these things are not
What moral people do.

Wow. Now that God finally saved those three women in Cleveland, it’s become downright unpleasant to read through the comment sections on news sites. The argument seems to be “nobody should ever treat another human being like this man treated those women, therefore we should treat this man like he treated those women.” Or “he’s a depraved monster for doing what he did; we should do the same to him.” Or “what kind of sick fuck is capable of such behavior, he ought to be flayed alive in the town square, suspended by his testicles over a hornet nest and beaten with hot pokers.” Because we are more moral than he is.

I have seen a handful of people calling out the would-be official torturers and those calling for prison rape as a reasonable sentence. They are accused of taking the rapist’s side, of course–because if you don’t want the skin peeled off of his face with a garden trowel, you are soft on crime and a liberal communist.

No sentence we could give him could ever pay back what he took from those women. That would be impossible. That cannot, and should not, be the standard we hold ourselves to. But we should not allow him to take our humanity from us as well. If what he did is detestable (and it is), it should be detestable for anyone to do it (and it is). The internet commenters calling for such treatment should take a good hard look at who they are choosing as their role model.

The Joys Of A Level Playing Field

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”–Anatole France

Freedoms and rights are not delicate things
Cos inalienably, they exist—
They’re the rights of all men, whether peasants or kings
And I’m setting them down in a list.

Since rights are for all, there’s no need to be wary;
No need to be raising your voice—
And every gay man has the freedom to marry…
To marry the girl of his choice.

And freedom of worship’s another, you see,
Where concerns can be safely ignored—
Just quit your complaining, cos everyone’s free…
To praise Jesus, their savior and lord.

And poor folk oppose the inheritance tax
With a lottery win in their sights
And we’ll open the polls to Latinos and Blacks…
They can vote for their choice of two Whites.

The second amendment’s another example
Where needless debate will run hot—
The evidence shows (and the data are ample)
We all have the right to get shot.

A right, if it’s right, is for both or for neither
The same for each group we compare—
Men can’t have abortions, so women can’t either
And that’s how we know that it’s fair

Ok, clearly this is not a coherent verse; it’s really just a collection of thoughts that invaded my skull and would not leave until I wrote them down (at least, I hope they leave). Every damn one of these stupid examples is something I’ve seen argued on one or another news comment thread–“gays have the right to get married, same as I do–they are free to marry the opposite-sex partner of their choice!” or “everybody is equally free to worship Jesus, so what’s the problem?”

And the damnedest thing is, I know full well that the collection here is far from complete. And it is hugely USA-centric. And reflects the relatively narrow slice of the world that I have looked at recently, so there is a very good chance that you might think “why didn’t Cuttle write about this?”

There’s a cure for that… these are simple verses, so have fun in the comment thread!

Writing For The New York Times Isn’t Rocket Science

He made a mean lasagna
And was quite a dad indeed,
But what really made him stand apart
Was how he wrote a lede—

Now, there’s some that lede with puzzles,
And there’s me, that ledes with rhymes
But cheap clichés won’t work
At the respected New York Times

His devotion to his family
Was really quite exciting—
It certainly deserved a place
Ahead of, say, his writing.

He might have written brilliance
In agreement or defiance—
His cooking gets the lede, cos writing
Isn’t rocket science.


She changed the world; she truly lived
A pioneering life…
A rocket engineer, but first—
A mother and a wife.

This afternoon, my twitter feed blew up. The obituary of Yvonne Brill, pioneering rocket scientist, a woman who accomplished astonishing things while overcoming the prejudices of her time… led with this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Not with her engineering accomplishments, which won her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (presented to her by president Obama). Not with the propulsion system she invented, which became the industry standard.

Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth.

Mrs. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of Tiros, the first weather satellite; Nova, a series of rocket designs that were used in American moon missions; the Atmosphere Explorer, the first upper-atmosphere satellite; and the Mars Observer, which in 1992 almost entered a Mars orbit before losing communication with Earth.

From 1981 to 1983, Mrs. Brill worked for NASA developing the rocket motor for the space shuttle. In a statement after Mrs. Brill’s death, Michael Griffin, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, praised her as “a pioneering spirit” who coupled “a clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

Beef Stroganoff came first.

All the discrimination she overcame? Yeah, I’d have said she was just the exception to the rule… except that maybe she isn’t excepted after all.


Update! It seems even the New York Times cares about social media. The first paragraph has mysteriously changed… now, it reads:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

So, when twitter explodes, the NYTimes listens.

God Is Pro-Choice (Just Anti-Woman)

When God created humankind
And said that they were free
He showed nothing’s more important than a choice.
He could save us from damnation
In a heartbeat, but you see,
It’s important that He’s given us a voice.

If eternity in torture
Is acceptable to God
As the risk you take for freedom while on earth
If the right to choose is sacrosanct,
I guess I find it odd
That the church would fight with women over birth

See, if self-determination
Is the most important fact—
More important than salvation of your soul
Why would women be disfavored
For a self-determined act?
Cos the goal is not salvation—it’s control.

Give me liberty, or give me death

Ελευθερία ή θάνατος (“Freedom or Death”–the national motto of Greece)

Live Free Or Die

Humankind has (as you can see) elevated freedom to an equal (if not greater) status with life itself. If this seems extreme, consider that [some of] Christian theology claims that the threat of eternal damnation is balanced by free will; that, because we have been given the gift of being able to choose to believe, it is acceptable to punish non-believers for all eternity.

Equating freedom with life is, it seems, a less stringent standard than it could be; we could easily make a biblical case for freedom being far more (infinitely more) important than life. The ability of human beings to make free choices is an important part of modern theology; if we did not choose our sinful path–if an omnipotent, omniscient God chose it for us–how could that God justify punishing us at all, let alone eternally? No, it is crucially important that humans have the ability, and the right, to choose.

Human beings. Not women. For some reason, the theology all seems to fall apart when it comes to women being able to freely choose. Not because life is important–if that were the case, God could choose to infringe on the freedoms He grants to all of us. An omnipotent, omniscient being could easily make it such that men would not choose to rape, or that parents would not disown girls, or that birth defects would not happen. An omnipotent, omniscient God could easily make every pregnancy wanted. But of course, He did not. Because human choice is more important.

Unless, of course, a woman chooses for herself. Because even more important than humankind’s ability to choose, is… what? A woman’s inability to choose?

God is clearly pro-choice. But it seems equally clear that God is anti-woman.

I wonder why anyone would be pro-god.

“Men And Women Aren’t Equal”

“Men and Women aren’t equal”, she wrote—
Just one of those stories you read now and then.
The truth, which the article fails, though, to note:
Women aren’t equal, and neither are men.

You won’t want to read it without a central nervous system depressant of choice, but foxnews.com has an opinion piece “To be happy, we must admit women and men aren’t ‘equal’“.

How bad is it?

But the truth must be heard. Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings. Men and women may be capable of doing many of the same things, but that doesn’t mean they want to. That we don’t have more female CEOs or stay-at-home dads proves this in spades.

Unless, of course, you’re beholden to feminism. In that case, you’ll believe the above is evidence of discrimination. You’ll believe what feminists taught you to believe: that gender is a social construct.

Those of us with children know better. We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball. This doesn’t mean men can’t take care of babies or women can’t play sports. It just means each gender has its own energy that flows in a specific direction. For God’s sake, let it flow.

You can click through for more if you want, but I really don’t recommend it.

I used to run a daycare. I know boys who love their dolls, and girls who want to kick that ball (and even if the writer was accurate, we’d still be left asking why; “it’s a boy/girl thing” is not an explanation). The thing is, boys and girls (and women and men) are not monolithic. For someone so eager to see differences between groups, the author of the article seems blind to differences within groups. And the differences within groups–the differences among individuals–are what matter. I’ve had female (and male) students who were faster than me, stronger than me, smarter than me (no, really!)… and it is very clear: making policies that shut doors based on averages (or worse, on stereotypes) will shut those doors on tremendously qualified individuals.

And when that happens, everybody loses.

Ooooh! Cuttlecap tip to @JessicaValenti (via Twitter, natch), who notes that the photo accompanying the article is (unbeknownst to Fox News) a same sex couple!