If Amazon’s Alexa got a boob-job…

…would you have sex with her?This post is not safe for work. Note: I encourage comments. If you’re reading this from a phone, I haven’t found a way to enable commenting from the the mobile format. If you switch to desktop mode in your browser, you should get a form at the bottom of the post. One of my objectives to living here in Germany is to improve my German. I’m a citizen. I should be able to speak the language. As part of that, I’ve been reading articles in the newspaper 1 as well as magazine articles. There are some things about the tone and coverage of what I’ve read that strike me as different from what you’d read in American publications. I’ve thought about doing some posts on this blog of the theme, “The things I’ve read in Germany”. I guess this is the first of these.

The future of sex

The other day, I was at the drinkshop and an issue of Focus magazine caught my eye.2 The headline article is about how robots/cyborgs, possibly with artificial intelligence (AI), may affect our future sex lives:
The future of sex How we will love
In this post, I’ll need to go on a tangent or two 3 as background to my perspective on the topic. First, I’ll list some of the ideas that the article gives 4. Next, I’ll describe some thoughts I’ve had around another sex topic – plastic surgery. I’ll go a little into prostitution, and finally, I hope it’ll come together in a coherent way. My main point is this: Be careful what you judge others for. We all want to draw lines elevating ourselves, but there usually isn’t some fundamental difference. It’s usually just a matter of extent.

The sex-toy industry has evolved

In all technologies, the sex industry is at the leading edge. If a young engineer wants to do truly new stuff, skype, facebook, microsoft… are perhaps not the right places to work. Porn was probably well ahead in all things that those companies pride themselves on. Video sex lines were surely in place well before skype. In the 90s, Intel had a product called pro-share. Inside of Intel, on Intel owned and supported hardware, in Intel conference rooms,… it never worked. I’d bet money that sex services had working telepresence. Years ago, there were plastic blow up dolls By reading the focus article, I learned about the RealDoll:
Cost is $5973 according to their website.
Looking at the pictures, things have evolved a bit since the days of the blowup doll.

No, focus.de is not a porn magazine

The magazine went into a lot of the psychology of sex toys. As these robots become more convincing, what will that do to real sex? For the really introverted types, unable to find love, can these dolls be fulfilling? For those with certain unacceptable fetishes, pedophilia or violence, can these be an outlet? 5 Many modern dolls are fitted with artificial intelligence, similar to Alexa/Siri. You can have basic conversations with them. There are AI psychologists out there, do they have to be limited to a computer screen? There are EU politicians working on policy around sex dolls. There’s a member of the European Parliment who is fighting for human rights for robots. All robots, not just sex robots. Here’s a random English language article on the topic. One interesting quote came from the author of the book Love and Sex with Robots 6 “by the year 2050 it’ll be normal to have sex with robots” In the mainstream media, the movie “Her” got very positive reviews. It was awarded an Oscar for best screenplay in addition to four other nominations. This is not fringe stuff.

So, would you sleep with a robot?

Sex is one of the most illogical things about being a modern human7. Big boobs/little boobs, why do we care? Big butt/little butt, why do we care? Red hair, blond, fair skinned or dark, petite or fleshy… why do any of these things matter? 8 These things shouldn’t matter, but they do.

Is it a big deal to have plastic surgery?

Most of the people I know would consider plastic surgery to be extreme. They feel that it crosses a line and is somehow fundamentally beyond what others do. I don’t agree that plastic surgery is fundamentally different. It is merely further down a road that all of us have traveled. Here’s one of my tangents. All of us do something to improve our looks for ourselves, for others, usually both. If this weren’t true, we’d all shave our heads 9 and wear comfortable sweats. You don’t have to be a Barbie type to get hilights in your hair. Most guys have spent time in the weight room in their youth trying to buff up. Women will wear a slinky dress, push up bras and heals. Under Armour fitted shirts are a popular way for dudes to look more muscular.

But plastic surgery is different. It’s a permanent body modification.

Is it different? Lots of people get tattoos. Lots of people gets lots of tattoos. Those are permanent. Just about all of us have pierced ears.

But plastic surgery is way more extreme!

Is it? Says who? Who gets to decide what’s extreme and what isn’t. If a woman has breast cancer, would we expect her to live the rest of her life without breasts? Would anyone begrudge a double-mastectomy’d woman of her replacements?

But that’s only because of the cancer!

The cancer leads us to remove the breasts. Putting something in their place is a purely psychological thing. That psychology didn’t just appear with the cancer. Many women feel that motherhood has partially destroyed their bodies. Nursing takes it’s toll. Is it unreasonable for a woman to want to have her old body back? TV shows like Extreme Makeover 10 make it look easy. Talk to a doctor, pay some money, stay at home for a day, all done. So wrong. The recovery is not easy. I once helped nurse someone back to health and it was almost a week before she could walk around the block. The arguments I’m making here all center on the female form. Society does put more emphasis on female beauty. While that is true, I don’t think it is a relevant part of an argument about whether plastic surgery is different from other forms of beauty enhancement. We all do things for purely cosmetic reasons. The line we draw between what we consider to be everyday things and what is “extreme”, is an arbitrary one. There is no clear line, it’s just opinion.

The sex industry of real people

Most people have paged through a nudey magazine. Playboy, Penthouse,… My college fraternity, like most (all?) frat houses, had a porn tape or two floating around. We had a special cable box for a bunch of years that got all the channels. It was always on and it was always on the Playboy channel. College is an environment soaked in sex, probably too much sex. Is it more than the intense hormonal activity of that age? Usually not. 11 Most guys have been to a strip club.12 It’s a stereotypical part of a bachelor party. Here you are, about to get married, and your best friends are paying some random women, who you don’t know, who you don’t want to know, to wiggle around naked in front of you. She bounces around on your lap. Depending on where you are, she’s rubbing her tits against your face. This is not seen as perverse by most people. A friend here in Germany has promised to take my wife to a Chippendale’s show. 13 Prostitution is legal in many parts of the world. Even in Iran, there are some religious loopholes that enable it. Most people probably view it as taboo, but probably not perverse. All of these cases are highly sexual. All of these cases are without any “human” connection. The couple “gettin jiggy with it” on the TV. You don’t know them. The girl up on the stage, she probably doesn’t want to know you. The woman that’s paid to escort you to dinner followed by some “evening entertainment”… You’re not getting to know each other. They all might as well be robots.

Back to sex toys

So would you have sex with a sufficiently lifelike cyborg?14 What’s a bachelorette party without the dildo?15 How about the massaging shower head? Is the massage setting ever used for actual showering? Mainstream movies have sex toys, no big deal
If you’re in a long distance relationship, perhaps you might consider one of these, available on amazon.de16

Where’s the line?

It’s easy for us to refer to the other guy’s actions as crazy, extreme, perverse, as fundamentally different. Some people walk around in frumpy clothes, others get dolled up occasionally, some go under the knife. It’s a continuum. Some won’t look at another woman/man walking down the street, many will visit the occasional strip bar, some will get it on with a robot. With all of these topics, there are no fundamental lines. Everyone draws their own lines. It’s their own choice to make. It’s not our place to pass judgement on where someone draws their own. So again, would you have sex with Alexa incarnated in a machine body?

  1. our downstairs neighbor subscribes to the Sunday edition of the FAZ and is nice enough to leave it on our stairs when they’re done. and is nice enough to leave it on our stairs when they’re done.

  2. I would compare it to Scientific American Mind, though there’s a bit of politics type stuff in there too., though there’s a bit of politics type stuff in there too.

  3. as my posts always do

  4. The article was remarkably balanced. Of course it’s a sensational topic, but it was written fairly matter of factly.

  5. Research says that they can be helpful or they can make things worse.

  6. 3.8 on Amazon with 36 reviews

  7. of course, it made lots of sense before

  8. As a guy, I recognize that these are attributes of women but one could make an equivalent list about men

  9. Or at least a buzz cut. Funny enough, I shave my head cause I think I look goofy with hair

  10. which were very popular

  11. sadly, the adults in some universities don’t assert responsibility when needed

  12. I don’t have a source to back this up. Leave a comment if you don’t think this is true

  13. I’m guessing neither of them will end up with a penis rubbing their faces, but it’s only a guess. I know a guy who’s told me of a time that he ended up with his nose in one of the dancer’s vagina. Not something I would have wanted, but I don’t think it’s different from boobs in the face (which I have experienced and which I did enjoy)

  14. The focus article mentions that current models intentionally have eyes that are not quite human. Apparently it freaks people out.

  15. my wife disputes this. They did have penis shaped bunny ears though. Still, there’s a lot of dildos out there

  16. but not on Amazon.com

What’s your electricity usage?

In my post about apartments in Germany, I wrote a bit about energy efficiency. This post expands on that with our actual electricity usage and some thoughts around that.When you move into an apartment in Germany, there’s a standard procedure you go through. Part of that is writing down all of the meter numbers. There are a bunch of them. Many apartment buildings, including this one have shared boilers for heating and hot water, so a bit of extra measurement/math is needed.
The boiler that heats water for heating and bathing in our building. It is shared between two apartments.
Here’s a list of the meters that concern me:
  • water
  • cold water (not really sure the difference)
  • hotwater upstairs (we’re in a 2 story flat)
  • hotwater downstairs
  • heating
  • natural gas
  • electricity
A couple weeks ago, I got an email from my landlord requesting updated readings. I knew to expect this because I’d already learned about the concept of cold and warm rent.

What’s warm rent?

In the US, your rent and utilities are separate. Here, they’re separate too, but the accounting is different. When you pay rent, you pay an additional amount to the landlord to cover heating, water, garbage. The amount you pay is initially a guess, based on the previous occupant 1. At the end of the year, you read the meters and adjust2 Kinda like taxes. Electricity is the same, except it’s all between you and the electric company. I didn’t realize the end of year accounting is the same until I got the adjustment sheet a week or two ago. That explained why on the one hand they were deducting from my bank account but on the other, “…why haven’t I been getting a bill?” So the bill. It’s unclear how much the adjustment was, but it’s about 100euros. More interesting is the actual numbers involved.

What’s a kilowatt hour?

How many of you know how many kilowatt hours you use? Do you know what a kilowatt hour is? Most of my friends are engineers, so perhaps some of them do. When you hear about Megawatt generators, Gigawatt… does that mean anything to you? When you see a modern wind turbine, how much do those produce? According to wikipedia:

Typical modern wind turbines have diameters of 40 to 90 metres (130 to 300 ft) and are rated between 500 kW and 2 MW. As of 2014 the most powerful turbine, the Vestas V-164, is rated at 8 MW and has a rotor diameter of 164m.

3According to the readings at my apartment, we used 1779kWh of electricity in 255 days. This trends to 2756kWh for a year. The paper from the electric company also gave some statistics for typical usage and our usage lies between the typical 1 person (1960) and 2 person (3523) household. I don’t see how our usage could be below typical.
  • Someone’s always home
  • We cook everyday (electric oven/cooktop)
  • 2 kids generate LOTS of laundry
It did get me to thinking. Some time ago, I got a electricity meter x4inspector Similar to the one I have in Portland: killawatt Our usage is just over 7kWh/day. The break down as I’ve computed it so far:
  • My Skylake computer is always on and idles at 38W. Just under a kWh. Pretty significant. 4
  • To wash a load of clothes at 30 degrees C (warm) uses .6kWh.
  • To dry a load of clothes is 1.1kWh. We probably do one a day on average. Perhaps a little more.
  • I can’t use my plug-in meter on the stove/oven, but googling tells me an oven can use 2400 watt/average. I bake something probably twice a week. One of those times is for pizza when it’s on max for one to two hours. I’ll call it .5kWh/day
  • The cooktop probably uses 1500 watts. Takes an hour to cook dinner?
  • Dishwasher 1.5kWh? we use it everyday.
Adding it up: (.9+.6+1.1+.5+1.5+1.5) = 6.1 The rest includes things like lighting 5, an hour or two of TV, the water kettle.

Comparing it to our usage in Portland

Portland electricity costs about $0.08/kWh. (2756kWh/365day*31days/month*$0.08/kWh)= $18/month. Add $10 for taxes and other stuff and that computation is still way less than what I remember the bill to be. I currently have our house listed on vrbo.com. This time of year, there’s not much going on. Summer is where the money is. We’re happy to have 50% occupancy. This month’s bill is $52.
  • The house is heated with gas
  • The stove is gas
  • The dryer is gas
Where’s the electricity go?
  • We have a freezer and and old fridge in the basement
  • Everything is lighted with CFLs
  • It is about twice the size of our apartment here
Whenever we return, I’ll definitely need to do some work to understand where the higher usage is coming from. I hope to do another post related to this topic. Our garbage production is also way lower here. I’d say that the one nighttime diaper we put on our son each day constitutes half of our garbage.

Follow up

In my post about German apartments, I talked about how you have to provide your own lighting fixtures. I also learned this summer that Lithuania goes to the other extreme. Not only do they have light fixtures, most apartments are furnished. Here’s a post that mentions this fact. The way I learned it was when a friend from Portland, Chris, was passing through Frankfurt. I told him about the fixtures thing and he recounted a story where a Lithuanian friend, upon seeing a friend’s new apartment said, “so,…. where’s the furniture?” That’s all the follow up I can think of at the moment. I need to start writing them down.

  1. one housing agent I talked to says she ups the amount a little if there are kids involved. More baths, warmer, more time spent at home

  2. I think this is insane. What if you spring a water leak (for example the toilet flap gets old). This can make your bill jump to $1000. Imagine if the meter were only read once a year! In Portland most of the electric meters are read by radio by a truck driving through the neighborhood. Portland water is read once a quarter. They tried electronic water meters, but being in the ground, they’re not reliable.

  3. As an aside. Modern windmills are a thing of beauty. Compared to the old ones, I’d call them majestic. My mom and I were once driving through the German countryside and saw one right off the side of the road. So we stopped the car and walked up to it. The base had a larger footprint than most people’s Tuffsheds. Closer to the size of a normal kitchen. It was very quiet. When one of the rotors came by I just hear a soft “wump”. Maybe one a second, one would come by. In parts of the US, people resist the installation of more of these. I don’t understand why.

  4. I’ve been meaning to have it auto sleep when not in use. Since I run Plex on it, that’s a little complicated, though we really only watch TV during certain hours. I also want it to be available for auto-photo upload from my phone. I need to get on it.

  5. We have LED everywhere.