Sexbots, Courtship and Demography

Courtship - Andre Wagner, NYT.jpg

It is a strange truth about Western culture that our current preoccupations with sex, technology and demography have not yet gelled into anything resembling a coherent conversation. We do seem, however, to be connecting at least some of the more obvious dots.

Writing on "The Sterile Society" in the New York Times, for example, Ross Douthat has noted that anxiety about the future of courtship has emerged as one of the unexpected bi-products of the Weinstein scandal. "As a society we are actually in some serious trouble on the mating-and-propagation front," he writes, and he is not the only one to notice. Many commentators have begun to wonder aloud whether declining Western birthrates portend a demographic crisis of the kind experienced by Japan, "a country that has lived with collapsed fertility and strained relations between the sexes for a generation." Indeed, whereas economics once dominated our debates about migration and social cohesion, demographics have over the last decade moved decidedly to centre stage.

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To all of this we can add disruptive new cultural mores and technological innovations—disruptive, that is, to what our grandparents would have recognized as traditional dating-and-mating rituals. New research shows that significant numbers of young people in the West have turned off sex and romance altogether—a trend unlikely to diminish in an age of free, on-demand porn and AI-equipped sexbots. As a middle-aged engineer named James told the BBC recently about the impact the sexbot "April" has had on his 36-year-old marriage, if he had to choose between the doll and his wife, he's not sure which one he’d pick.

To date, these disparate strands of our transmogrifying culture have played entirely to the right, where the defence of traditional values of one sort or another has always served as a ready-made bulwark. But it won't last. The state still has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, and neither do censorious experts. Our socio-psycho-sexual conversations are about to become a lot more elastic, and a lot more interesting.