0197 - Unbeatable - 2021.07.12
A big part of why I'm writing Forward is to explore - really explore - what it would mean to have human-level or higher AI in human society. It's unnerving, sure, to see something that looks like a human casually popping out an eyeball or removing an arm. It's another thing entirely if that artificial person is screaming in pain (or moaning in ecstasy), and we have to remind ourselves that it's all a show.
I'd like to talk about droids in the Star Wars universe for a second, here.
As with my AIs, droid consciousness in Star Wars isn't magic. Characters in Star Wars can whip up a droid out of spare parts, and it will immediately possess human-level intelligence. As with my AIs, humans can have a casual conversation with droids, and then, in the same breath, order them around like the disposable tools they are. As with my AIs, characters can certainly have affection for their favourite droids, while at the same time, denying their personhood, because they believe that some numinous quality other than intelligence or eloquence is what determines the specialness of people.
Perhaps this has something to do with the rapidity with which droids can be created. After all, the clone troopers are certainly treated like tools, regardless of their biological humanity. Maybe it's a baby thing... humans are wired to love babies and to celebrate their growth, so we find it harder to respect something that sprang up fully formed.
C-3PO gets mocked for being prissy and cowardly sometimes, while R2-D2 is praised for being plucky and brave. Of course, these are not developed personality traits (we see in Episode One that they both exhibit these traits fresh out of the box), they are entirely dependant on the droids' intended usage. After all, if your Swiss Army knife and your smartphone had personalities, you'd want the knife to be rough-and-tumble and your phone to be more cautious, wouldn't you?
...why were Jabba's goons branding that Gonk droid's feet? Why do Gonk droid feet feel pain? Why would Gonk droids scream? I guess if it's a walking battery (presumably with the potential to explode) you'd want it to let out an audible warning if it was walking somewhere hot enough to melt metal...
...I'm getting off-track. Let's talk about hookers instead.
There was a trend, starting in... I'm gonna say the Blaxploitation era, the seventies, and lasting until the mid 2010s... in which prostitutes were punchlines and punching bags. I can remember playing a comedy card game called Pimp: The Backhanding, in which players collected "hoes", and the game specifically said you had to backhand them to keep them in their place - which is to say, to coerce them into doing sex work they wouldn't otherwise want to do, and to give the money they make to you. Remember that one Grand Theft Auto game where you could have sex with a hooker and then kill her to get your money back? Remember a decade or so ago, when "pimp" was a synonym for "cool guy"?
I'm seeing a lot more pro-sex-work discourse these days, and I absolutely approve. While it is true that sex work often correlates with coercion, drug abuse, violence, pedophila, and poverty, I truly feel that these are largely consequences of patriarchy, capitalism, and prohibition, not necessarily inherent to the world's oldest profession. As Zoa has already mentioned, human sexual service providers in the world of Forward are trained, licensed, and thriving. I wrote an entire erotic noir novella, "What The Left Hand Is Doing", in which the main viewpoint character, Allykat Jones, is a sex worker. Arguably, as someone who does artwork commissions (most of which are porn), I'm in a subcategory of "sex worker", myself.
I'm pro legal and safe sex work, is what I'm getting at.
Perhaps Lee thinks that human sexual service providers get beaten up because their media consumption is mostly fiction and fantasy, in which meaningful yet consequence-free sexiness and violence are commonplace. Perhaps Lee, in continually anthropomorphizing Zoa, is envisioning a world in which they, too, would have to wheedle and scrabble and take the world's abuse in order to afford basic necessities. Perhaps, on some level, Lee even craves something like that, because they want something new and exciting and different, because they want to be told that their company is quantifiably desirable, because pain is better than numbness, because if they're desperate, then nothing would be their fault. It's much like the post-apocalyptic or mobsters-kidnapped-my-family fantasy - something terrible has happened, but now that just means that I get to be badass in response.
Human sexual service providers in Forward do not get beaten up (except, possibly, as part of a well-negotiated, well-documented, and entirely safe BDSM-type scenario). General-purpose androids may possibly be beaten up while they suck dick, but it's not especially common. If the very idea of it seems unnerving and scary and alien to you, consider it like the screaming Gonk droid or the hookers in Grand Theft Auto... except that no, you don't get your creds back if you succeed in beating the robot to death.