As the grim realities of aging have started getting harder to ignore, I have found my thoughts wandering more often into the future. Of course, there is plenty of fun to be had pondering the great and terrible mystery of death, but the idea of death remains more abstract and confusing than genuinely horrifying. On the other hand, I can easily extrapolate from the current gentle wearing-down of my body to a future where I am alone, scared, and uncontrollably shitting myself. They say your body begins breaking down at 30, and the fun has just begun!
And as I reflect on all of the interesting ways that my body will surprise me during its gradual, controlled, genetically pre-programmed breakdown, I further wonder whether I will, indeed, have to experience this whole process by myself. Barring a complete personality change, it’s looking increasingly likely that I won’t be having any children to join me on this ride. (And even if I did, whether they would be loyal and supportive or ungodly little ingrates would be impossible to predict – although, if I’m anything to go by, I wouldn’t expect too much.) I’m slightly more optimistic about finding an adult companion to join me on this wild ride, but the fact that I can only spend so much time with a woman before one or both of us ends up hurt, frustrated, or just plain bored makes me a little pessimistic on this point, as well.
This pessimistic outlook had me quite depressed until I realized something that seems, in retrospect, pretty obvious: by the time I am old enough to require constant care and companionship, the technology will exist for me to receive this care and companionship – along with some simulacrum of love and affection – from a lifelike humanoid automaton.
I’m not just talking about the idea of an emotional connection with an Artificial Intelligence, an idea that has already been mined to death in movies like Her, Blade Runner 2049, and various other works of science fiction. These beings have been presented as companions to protagonists who are physically capable in spite of their loneliness and sorrow. What I’m actually thinking of is a being that, in addition to being able to express humanlike thought and emotion, will also be able to pick me up when I fall, and will spray me with its high-powered robot hose when I shit myself. It will be a combination of a wife, a caregiver, and a home entertainment system.
You could quite understandably object that this idea has been framed in quite a sexist manner, and I can’t entirely disagree. To call this robotic being a “wife” is to fall into the trap of sexist notions of how women are supposed to care for their male partners, often without any clear expectation of reciprocity. And how could someone as repugnantly selfish as me really expect another human being to selflessly care for me as I slowly deteriorate into an uncontrolled drip (and occasional spray) of bodily fluids, anyway? That’s exactly why a robot caregiver-slash-companion would be the perfect solution for the conundrum created by my extreme selfishness and general intolerability. If I refer to this robotic being as a “wife”, I do so out a wistful sense of romanticism, rather than literally or with any belief in the subservience of women. After all, women will be fully entitled to their own robot slave-husbands, too.
You might object that it’s all good and fine to have a robot to change my diapers, but that it would be sad and self-deluding to seek emotional comfort in the metallic arms of a being that isn’t “really” alive. Well, I’m not really convinced that our humanity comes from anything more than the sum of our neural wiring, and I don’t see why an elegantly wired machine should ultimately be any less alive than we are. Current thinking in cognitive science suggests that there’s no such thing as a soul, that consciousness is just a byproduct of a certain stage of cognitive development, and that free will does not exist. If we sweep aside all of these romantic constructs and accept the humbling truth, there is no reason why a futuristic robot won’t be fully worthy to be my companion and life partner as I enter my twilight years.
Perhaps this futuristic fantasy is too much of a cop-out, a way of reassuring myself that I won’t ultimately pay a terrible karmic price for all of the people I’ve pushed away and continue to push away in my life. Aside from whether my predictions are accurate – and I leave it to the future, or at least to the futurologists, to determine that – it seems like my hope for an android bride might not promote the healthiest attitude toward my fellow human beings in the here and now. But if the alternative is despair over a future where I’m too covered in open sores to be loved by anyone who’s not blinded by the baffling perceptual distortions of devoted love and compassion, I’ll gladly accept that cold, metallic love as an alternative. And so, let the aging continue!