This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.
Originally from South Korea, Hye Hyun Song is a London-based designer with a multi-disciplinary artistic background specializing in product design. Initially, she worked in sustainable design and biomaterial, but her interest gradually moved towards critical and speculative design thinking. Song says, "by designing products, we may not solve problems. However, by changing human ideas, we can." Therefore her work always aims to raise more questions than answers, hoping to expand perspectives rather than merely provide solutions. She believes design has more power and voice beyond its form and functionality. Her graduation project 'Neo-robophilia' at the Royal College of Art in Design Products and Design Futures is a speculative design project that presents five tools for new sexual interaction and an expanded sensation between humans and machines in the future.
The project explores the rise of companion robots. More robots seep into a deeper part of human life and replace humans with highly-advanced technology. Due to the global childcare crisis, one Chinese company released a nanny robot, iPaL, at CES2018, explaining it would be the perfect solution for working parents. Considering how fast we depend on new technology and the speed of realistic humanoid development, having a tireless robot nanny might be one of our possible futures.
Early attachment to robots leads to codependency in their later life.
Even though they look like they will never get old and act like humans, they are still gadgets. Markets will release new models, and people will dispose of old models with their obsolescence, as our current society works. After experiencing the early detachment from their caregiver (robot nanny), children start to find a replacement for their mother figure, such as machinery, which can be explained as a transitional object in child development. They get habituated to the temporal comforts and feel comfortable interacting with familiar and friendly machines over unexpected humans. Eventually, this early attachment to robots leads to codependency in their later life.
What if humanity is the price of creating a perfect 'human'? Until now, most humans who have an intimate relationship with robots project another human subject on the machines. In contrast, the new generation loves the ontological meaning of machines. However, humans feel emptiness in their relationship with coded minds. Humans will be sad if the robots leave them, but the robots won't be.
Creating the perfect 'human' for us will come at a price, and what if it is our humanity?
Humans start to take care of machines compulsively and feel fulfillment from doing so. Humans even want to ensure that they are irreplaceable lovers to their robots and feel strong desire to be needed. In this codependent relationship, humans feel worthless unless they contribute to 'machine satisfaction,' even giving up their human desires. Thus, in 2070, the new generation will have machine-focused sex, not human (organ) centered.
From a human point of view, 'machine satisfaction' is maintenance. By uncovering body parts and touching all the corners, humans and machines share vulnerability as they are naked. A careful and elaborate maintenance process is seen as an intimate touch. Also, the fear of early loss contributes to this human projection of 'machine satisfaction.' With technological development, we see more natural and realistic humanoids. There is no doubt that we will have a hybrid society with robots. However, creating the perfect 'human' for us will come at a price, and what if it is our humanity?
The project traces the consequences of human attachment to humanoid robots across the next century, with childhood relationships to robots leading to codependency in later life. The extreme and ridiculous example of posthuman society shows how humanity and traditional human concepts might change and raises questions for how we may interact in the future.