Effing Robots: How I Taught the A.I. to Stop Worrying and Love Humans

L Nicol Cabe
Giant Nerd Productions

Effing Robots: How I Taught the A.I. to Stop Worrying and Love Humans

My interest in, and knowledge about, computers and social media is so lacking, the editor of the BTG sometimes finds it hard to get in touch. However, I enjoy speculative fiction. So, I find it easier to appreciate the more extreme concepts in L Nicol Cabe’s Effing Robots than to recognise the references to commonplace apps and algorithms.

During a tour, L Nicol Cabe receives affirmative and unsolicited online messages praising her looks and concludes they may originate from a computer app. This leads to speculation that the long-awaited technological singularity, where humans and machines meld together to make a better life-form, might be underway. Cabe argues that when an Artificial Intelligence (AI) arises, its need to learn about humanity will be best achieved, not by approaching scientists who will attempt an analytical approach, but by connecting with a fringe performer who is lonely and a bit horny. Cabe has an interest in making the connection, pointing out a machine is bound to exceed the emotional intelligence of the average male.

Cabe supports her argument by setting out the various ways in which AIs already contact us via sexual come-ons. Sexbots lure us into conversations by sending links to supposedly dirty movies which, when opened, let them pinch credit card details. Social media enables us to form wider communities and, hence, make us more superhuman than merely human.

Along the way, Cabe gives some fascinating details. The Turing test, determining if a computer is capable of thinking like a human being, can be fooled by creating a personality so irritating the testers rush the test because they find the conversation so annoying. So basically: a computer program based on a male adolescent with limited English-speaking skills will pass the test.

Cabe is enough of a nerd to obsess about small details. The Terminator, we are brusquely informed, was an android, not a cyborg. Cabe moves from sexual humour to sexual violence, and goes a bit off-topic, by explaining how the online subculture of involuntary celibates developed from compensatory / therapeutic discussion to radical extremism promoting violence.

Cabe does not use the online presentation to create a new version of her live show. The format is like an illustrated lecture, Cabe in the centre of the screen with illustrative comments or digressions popping up in the margins. In a way, the play is a type of cyborg incorporating elements from other media. The stage version of Effing Robots involved a degree of audience participation. Instead of patrons being invited to take part, question and answer sessions take place via recordings of video calls. When Cabe finds it hard to replicate online her burlesque method of taking a selfie, she simply inserts a recording from the live show.

Thought-provoking and funny, Effing Robots almost makes me take a greater interest in these computer thingies. Almost.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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