Can technology replicate intimacy?

Nicole Pérez explores the future meaning of affection.


What does intimacy mean? Frequently, it means little annoyances, a partner disturbing your sleep, a pet biting your hand or a child doing whatever possible to get your attention. In her film Misbehaving (Ro)bots, Nicole Pérez (US) asks whether technology could hope to replicate these tiny, bothersome quirks that make up the feeling of intimacy.

The narrator of the film speaks lovingly of “her”—his lover. We come to learn that she isn’t human, but a collection of small robots designed to simulate the intimacy of a lover sleeping in his bed. Not sexually but, you might say, romantically. The robots poke and prod the narrator, and he even finds them annoying. But the tender attention amounts to a feeling of loving intimacy. This might bring to mind the movie Her, in which a man falls in love with his phone’s talking operating system. But Pérez’s robots are something more physical; they simulate the lover’s touch, not her voice or mind.

Misbehaving (Ro)bots is thought-provoking on two levels. It asks us, firstly, to think about the future. How do we feel about the idea of intimacy as simulated by mechanical robots? Whether we find the lovers’ tale romantic or disturbing might be important if such technological loves become common in the future. Secondly, Pérez invites us to think about the theme of intimacy itself. In her film, after all, intimacy is not intellectual or even spiritual, but rather habitual and physical.

Are we intimate with someone not when we know their deepest thoughts, but rather when we become accustomed to their most annoying quirks? Can technology hope to replicate this feeling? Misbehaving (Ro)bots makes us reflect on intimacy as it is, and as it might be. Watch the one-minute movie here.

Presented by Next Nature Network, an international, future-driven nature organization that positions itself between traditional players such as WWF and Greenpeace. With various design projects, the nonprofit opens the public debate on our future—in which nature and technology are fusing.

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