Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
1 December 2017

The Sex Robots Are Coming is nothing more than prurience and voyeurism

Shame on the person – a man, surely? – who commissioned this Channel 4 programme.

By Rachel Cooke

Channel 4 is having an AI season, which sounds grand until you tentatively dip your toe into the cyber-water only to discover that, in at least one case, this is nothing more than an excuse for a little light prurience and voyeurism.

Shame, then, on the person – a man, surely? – who commissioned it. He must have sat through The Sex Robots Are Coming (30 November, 10pm), an investigation into the world of robots designed specifically for the purposes of sterile humping, and thought nothing of its nauseating content, of how in some 55 minutes of television we heard from only one critical voice. As he did so, what on Earth went through his head? On second thoughts, perhaps we’d better not get into that.

Centre stage in this documentary was the RealDoll made in San Marcos, California – lifelike, near-human-size female dolls. According to the manufacturing company’s founder, Matt McMullen, this was only an “art project” until the day a customer asked him if it would be OK to have sex with his doll, at which point a light bulb flashed over his head.

Now, having accepted that he’s running a business rather than Titian’s studio, McMullen is expanding. His next offering, if all goes to plan, will be Harmony, a doll so sophisticated that she can make conversation (though we’re not talking Oscar Wilde here; on a first “date”, one of her opening gambits was the line: “Do you masturbate?”), and among whose features is a self-lubricating vagina that responds to what Susan, the scientist who is programming her, described as “thrust-speed”.

If this sounds horrible, that’s because it is. As Dr Kathleen Richardson, a robotics expert from De Montfort University noted in the two nanoseconds she was given to make her point, what the world really needs right now is a male accessory that reduces women to a series of parts, whose “voices” they can turn on and off at will. But if it was a surprise that the brains behind Harmony was the seemingly very capable Susan, it was heartbreaking to hear how she had become interested in the dolls in the first place. “I’m not a beautiful woman,” she said, describing how she had bought one for her husband to celebrate the completion of his PhD.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Even more desolate-sounding was Tine, the wife (of 36 years) of James, who already owns four non-robotic dolls and is keen to upgrade when Harmony comes on the market. “I was uneasy,” she said of her return home to a newly doll-stuffed house after a period away nursing her mother. “But it got better as time went along.” And then: “He could have found a live person, but he didn’t do that.” It was the note of gratitude that tore at the heart.

Joe Orton Laid Bare (BBC Two, 25 November, 9pm) didn’t have anything particularly new to tell us either about the meteoric rise of the Leicester playwright, or about his brutal murder by his jealous, thwarted lover Kenneth Halliwell. But it certainly had its moments, my personal favourite being the one when an elderly man called Robin Fairfield – on screen, he was presented as a “friend” of the playwright – described their encounter in the loos of a Chelsea department store one afternoon somewhere towards the middle of the Sixties. Having followed Orton down the King’s Road, it was in a cubicle in Peter Jones that they became, as Fairfield put it, “more intimately acquainted” – a genteel turn of phrase that would have had Orton roaring with laughter.

John Lahr, Orton’s biographer, appeared and so, too, did his sister Leonie, goggle-eyed as ever (she is Joe, minus the elocution lessons and Rada). Plus, we got a few glimpses of some of the library books Orton and Halliwell defaced, a satirical campaign of destruction for which they were eventually sent to prison. What, I wonder, would Emlyn Williams, a writer who surely did not deserve to be on the receiving end of their scissors-and-glue wrath, have made of their amendments to the cover of his Collected Plays? (Their titles, post makeover, included Up the Front, Up the Back, and Fucked by Monty.) Would he have smiled? Or would he have caught, as I suddenly did, a strong and horribly prescient whiff of overpowering envy? 

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

This article appears in the 29 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The most powerful man in the world