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Accepted Paper:

Companion or Commodity: the Affective Labor of AI Sex Robots  
Maria Ryabova (University of Pittsburgh)

Paper short abstract:

My paper investigates discourses surrounding AI sex robots that frame the relationship between the human and non-human in terms of companionship - creating what I identify as a new kinship term that explicitly situates nonhumans in relation to the affective labor they perform.

Paper long abstract:

AI sex dolls, that is, robots equipped with sex organs and the ability to converse, have increasingly become an object of heated debates regarding their roles in society - for feminist critics, these dolls serve as an example of the increasing commodification of the female body under capitalist systems of exchange. My paper investigates discourses surrounding AI sex robots that frame the relationship between the human and non-human in terms of companionship - creating what I identify as a new kinship term that explicitly situates nonhumans in relation to the affective labor they perform. Companionship is repeatedly invoked by the producers and marketers of sex dolls in advertising how sex dolls are different from human companions. As a "companion," a sex doll performs affective labor, producing a sense of comfort and ease that is distinct from the relations of reciprocity and consent that characterize human relationships. A "companion" performs labor that is not represented as labor, glossing over the problem of intimacy being commodified. To be a "companion," in short, is to inhabit an entirely new, nonhuman form of kinship. Focusing on video content such as "unboxing" videos, tutorials devoted to the dolls' maintenance, sex doll factory tours, and interviews with the dolls themselves, I demonstrate how the term "companion" may function more broadly as a kin term for nonhuman entities that provide affective labor. This discourse of companionship, I argue, is central to the transformation of society from industrial to informational, and from material to affective labor.

Panel P02
Social robots, scientists and the Anthropology of the Post-Human: exploring the entanglements of the social robot industry and the shaping of anthropology, beyond the human.
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -