Sex Robots and Vegan Meat

26 Feb 2021

By Mira Waligora

This was the first event that caught my eye when the Paisley Book Festival programme was launched. I didn’t know the author or the book but I imagined from the title it would be full of technological and radical ideas, which always carry moral and ethical dilemmas. Well I was not disappointed! What an evening.

Sex Robots and Vegan Meat is written by Jenny Kleeman who is a documentary film maker and investigative journalist with an impressive career including Channel 4’s Unreported World and BBC One’s Panorama. Her experience comes through by her command of the topics explored. Her conversation with Heather Parry was light and fun, while seamlessly discussing taboo subjects without batting an eye lid. This was a refreshingly open and honest manner of approaching these subjects.

Sex Robots & Vegan Meats is the answer to Kleeman’s idea “what if I could find 4 pieces of technology that feel like tropes of science fiction but that are happening today and what would they mean for humanity?”

First up, Sex Robots.

Imagine this, you have a lot of money, these robots are expensive after all, and you decide to get one. You can programme your robot to look exactly as you want with 42 types of nipples to chose from and various different labia. It doesn’t end there as you can also fully customize your robot’s moods. Using an app you can make your robot sexual, insecure, moody or helpful among other things. You can create the perfect partner, one that will always agree with you, sometimes agree with you or never agreed with you. Whatever you’re into. According to Kleeman the robots are an interesting prism through which we can examine what we expect of relationships today. She further adds that as humans have a fundamental need for control, some people would rather have a robot than “worry about the independent ambitions and aspirations of their partner”.

But what would that power do to us? To have complete and utter control. How would this technology erode us? asks Kleeman. A deeply fundamental question that comes across for me is how do we use technology? Who decides if we accept it or not? Kleeman mentions the role that commissioners play as gatekeepers of TV and radio programming. What topics of conversation are plugged into people’s mind through the content on tv or radio? What conversations are we invited to have through the content we consume?

When asked about technology Kleeman says she is “anti people who sell us technological solutions which may mean that we avoid making real progress by changing our behaviour and evolving as a society”. The radical new future that we will live in can’t be one where we plastered technological advances over human failings.

Next we explore something closely resembling the fictional world of Gilead, a totalitarian patriarchal theocracy. When exploring the possibilities that the technology of artificial wombs can bring about. What would happen to women who are found unfit by the state to be mothers because their behaviour is deemed to be unmotherly – their babies would normally be taken into care at birth. But with this technology that could happen during the pregnancy. A baby transferred to an artificial womb, a biobag. Is this so really unimaginable is that?

The fundamental argument of abortion is the right to chose what happens to your body, what if it doesn't need to happen in your body? If there was a way for a baby to survive outside the womb, and the woman wanted an abortion. Would it be her choice to abort that foetus instead of transferring it to an artificial womb. What would come of those babies? Who would care for all these abandoned, and unwanted children? Would the state? Would you?

However what will push this particular technology forward, tells us Kleeman is the deep desire to help the most vulnerable human beings on earth, premature babies, to survive. Because although this technology is terrifying, Kleeman says is it also so very hopeful.

Throughout this event we are invited to have radical conversations about these technologies. We are invited to explore where we stand on the use of these technologies by the state, multinational corporations and individuals. Why are we excited at the prospect of robots taking care of people in care homes? How much do we value human connection and what are modern technologies doing to it? Talk about it.

If you missed Sex Robots and Vegan Meat with Jenny Kleeman you can watch again with this link until 26th March. Jenny's book is available here to purchase

There's still time to register for tickets for Paisley Book Festival events here