Robot Creation from Personal Trauma

While researching for The Uncanny Valley Club, one of the more interesting ideas that came up was the idea that, just like many other creatives: writers, painters et cetera, robotic scientists draw on their own traumas to ‘create’ robots.
The Robotic scientists also channelled their psychical-physical sufferings onto the robots they created, and their machines mirrored parts of themselves. Robots were modelled on the unconscious sufferings of their makers, as physical and social limitations and models of post-traumatic stress disorder were imported into the machines. 17 Richardson, K. (2015). An Anthropology of Robots and A.I. The robotic scientist is unconsciously engaged in a process of stamping the object with his or her characteristics…Despite all the abstract and technical processes that go into designing a robot, the result is a creature that bears an uncanny resemblance to its maker. Robots are very much like their makers. 97 Richardson, K. (2015). An Anthropology of Robots and A.I.
I found the idea fascinating and explored it in chapter 16, where Henry and Dale discuss, over a casual lunch, the idea that Quinn the Robot Scientist, has incorporated his own sociopathic tendencies into his robots.
‘Let’s just call him what he is,’ she says. ‘He’s a sociopath, right?’ ‘You’re probably right about that.’ ‘Can I disappoint you even further, Henry? Quinn’s actually not as much of a genius as you think. He doesn’t get his ideas out of thin air. He takes his cues from his own life and his own body. The base nature of his dolls starts with him; they think the way he does, behave the way he does, and respond the way he does. Little Quinn replicas. His dolls are all sociopaths.’ Henry listens to what Dale has to say, but she can’t be right. ‘If you’re right, Dale, then every single doll out of Quinn’s factory would be a sociopath.’ ‘Yes, and each part of Quinn’s dolls is a separate creation; they’re 3D-printed pieces with their own dot brain: the arms, necks, legs, heads, fingers—everything. Each little piece has its own model of Quinn’s quirks and abilities—or disabilities—or mental state. Do you understand what I’m telling you, Henry?’ ‘I get what you’re saying, but since almost every doll in this town comes out of Quinn’s warehouse, and as his advanced dolls begin to roll out into projects, that would mean there would be a lot of Quinn-like sociopaths in the population.’ Dale shrugs at him. He expected her to explain where his thinking had gone wrong, and tell him, “No, this is not true”, but she nods as if to say, “Yes, it’s all true, but what’s to be done about it?” Pg 120 J Proudfoot (2022) The Uncanny Valley Club.

The Uncanny Valley Club— a fictional look at how the way we treat robots might influence the way we treat each other.

It’s been eight years in the works, and The Uncanny Valley Club is finally done and dusted and set free in the world. I say robots above, but it’s essentially about sexbots. And, I’m going to say (bravely) I’m quite proud of this book. The characters have come to life and are now quite real to me—and I’m quite fond of them. The last few drafts really brought them to life, and the good scrub and polish given to it by Lindsay Corten (Corten Editorial) has taken away any fears I might have had about the book.

But mostly, I feel like I’ve written the book that has given me a chance to say what I’ve wanted to say. Why Robots? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about relationships with robots (or sexbots) and it stirred up my long-time interest in, and anxieties about (which started in my uni days) cyborgs and Bladerunner type stories. Before long I found myself deep in a research tunnel that led me to explore the way interactions with sexbots might change how we humans would relate to each other. The result is this new book, The Uncanny Valley Club.

Within the wider look at sexbots I’ve cheekily indulged in a thread that allows for some of my research to come to light, that being the interesting fact that traditionally people who identify as male are more likely (statistically) to be interested in the creation of robots in the image of humans, than in cyborg robotics or enhancement type robotics (cyborg engineering) which is more likely to be the domain of women. This has allowed for a really fun tension between female and male roboticists in the story, and for some explosive events.

On the face of, it’s a speculative fiction novel set in mid-21st Century—yes, not too far from now, but the focus is on relationships with robots, think The Stone Gods (Jeanette Winterson), or Machines Like Me (Ian McEwan). The story follows Henry King as he dabbles with the idea of using a sex doll to treat a medical condition. The deeper themes take a look at our relationship with a world of self-drive cars and artificial intelligence. It asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality.

The book has been in the making for eight years. Not eight solid writing years, but on and off, with long periods of inaction due to ill health, on my part, putting it on ice for years at a time. (At times I couldn’t read a sentence let alone write one, and at one point decided I’d not write again.) But here we are with the book finished.

Blurb: Henry King manages Quinn Corp, a robotics company, but he’d rather spend his time with his vintage car, and his house full of vintage memorabilia. He often chases down the self-drive cars to nudge them off the road causing them to spin off into a kerbside crash. When Henry purchases a sex robot to treat a medical condition—at the encouragement of his friend Vince, who owns his own sex doll, and his therapist, who is a sex doll salesman—it changes who he is, how he feels about himself, and how he treats the women in his life. Henry struggles in his life trying to connect the two worlds of robots and humans, fiction and reality, lust and hate, until it all comes falling apart for him in The Uncanny Valley Club. Set in the mid-21st century, The Uncanny Valley Club asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality. Treading the psychological path between human and robot relationships, The Uncanny Valley Club is a fast-paced speculative fiction novel by Julie Proudfoot, author of The Neighbour and winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. 

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