Why does tech keep circling back to ‘the sleaze’?

It almost reads like a choose-your-own-adventure. You can choose between a future in which robots are pole dancers for men to ogle, or a future where sexbots are hacked to kill their owners.

The sexbot scare went viral late 2017 when Deakin University’s, Dr Nick Patterson, spoke to media outlets about the threat of hackers inducing sexbots to kill their owners.

Pole-dancing robots hit the headlines during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas when they performed in the dim light of a Vegas strip club accompanied by loud music and a human pole dancer.

Credit: Giles Walker, Kinetics http://www.gileswalker.org/kinetics

Both stories share one commonality—they show once again, that tech is still, overwhelmingly, seen through the eyes of men.

On a positive note, the sexism on display at CES was simply a thematic show put on by the strip club for patrons as they left the gadget floor. Not the work of a show vendor with a marketing budget and no judgement.

It’s hard to blame British scrap metal artist Giles Walker for the trend: his artwork, ‘Peepshow’ (note the CCTV camera heads on the robots) has toured the Europe and USA for many years.

What’s the difference between both tech-themed exhibits? The context that could only come from a strip club seeking, and getting, tech sector attention.

Context is as important here as it is to the question of sexbot murderers—another segment where the male gaze dominates.

There was a serious point to what Dr Patterson has to say. For example, there’s a no-sex discussion about hacking robots in an interview he gave to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about robot info-security. However, to go from serious media outlets to more popular ones requires a dash of titillation.

Individual companies make the right noises about fixing their own problems, but the tech sector, as a whole, remains depressingly male dominated, from entry-level to senior management.

And regardless of whether Hong Kong based Hanson Robotics’ humanoid robot project, ‘Sophia’ is a serious research project or a gimmick, her designers are projecting their how-a-woman-should-look ideals onto their creation—the same ideals that are heard in most of the voices that speak for, and create, these machines.

Pole-dancing tech teaches us the importance of context. Away from the strip club, ‘Peepshow’ is an artwork with something to say. At CES, it was sleaze.

Sophia, sexbots, or even Siri all exhibit a common thread of ideals and context—one in which the male context is a default. It doesn’t have to be this way.

About the author: Shara Evans is recognized as one of the world’s top female futurists. She’s a media commentator, strategy adviser, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.

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