Screenshot from 'Metropolis'

Of all of the things that have launched recently, a breath of fresh air has been 404 Media. This is another article from there, which challenges us to think about recent news from OpenAI ushering a future that is less like the film Her and more like Metropolis.

In 1957, German director Fritz Lang introduced the world to the first on-screen fembot with his adaptation of his wife Thea von Harbou’s frenetic urban dystopia novel Metropolis. The character of the Maschinenmensch, a robot woman created by a mad scientist to replicate his dead lover (a deepfake, basically) hypnotizes the effete bourgeois with a dance. The men pant and pull their hair and scream, “For her, all seven deadly sins!”

Before Metropolis, automatons were seen as entertaining, odd tinkerings of inventors and the wealthy. Their history goes back to ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and into the 18th century. Until that point, machine-men and women were fairly evenly represented (plus a lot of little robot animals). But in the 19th century, with the arrival of the industrial revolution, something changed. People became afraid of the progress happening around them, and feared mass unemployment thanks to these new factories and machines that separated workers from the products of their own labor.

That’s when depictions of the android as female started to take over. When machines started to be seen as a threat to male control, something to be feared and never to be fully understood, they were imagined as seductive pariahs, the original black box. The Maschinenmensch is burned at the stake.

“Fictional and factual fembots each reflect the same regressive male fantasies: sexual outlets and the promise of emotional validation and companionship,” researchers Kate Devlin and Olivia Belton wrote in their 2020 paper. “Underpinning this are masculine anxieties regarding powerful women, as well as the fear of technology exceeding our capacities and escaping our control.” Everyone is fixated on the flirtatious female voice because deep down, under the jokes about e-girls being “so over” and AI girlfriends as responsible for declining birth rates, people are actually, seriously afraid.

Source: 404 Media