Although the Pygmalion myth is often presented in modern times as a romantic love story, the tale is an unsettling description of one of the first female android sex partners in Western history. It is not clear that Pygmalion’s passive, nameless living doll possesses consciousness, a voice, or agency, despite her “blushes.” Has Aphrodite transformed the perfect female statue into a real live woman, with her own independent mind—or is she now “just a better simulation?” The statue is described as an idealized woman, more perfect than any real female. So Pygmalion’s replica “surpasses human limits,” much like the sex replicants in the Blade Runner films that are advertised as “more human than human.” Ovid, notably, does not describe her skin and body as feeling lifelike. Instead Ovid compares her flesh to wax that becomes warm, soft, and malleable the more it is handled—in his words, her body “becomes useful by being used.”
Ovid ends his fairy tale with the marriage of Pygmalion and his nameless living statue. He even adds that they were blessed with a daughter named Paphos, a magical feat of reproduction intended to show that the ideal statue became a real, biological woman. Notably, the plot of the film Blade Runner 2049 turns on a similar magical reproduction of a replicant, the biological birth of a baby to the replicant Rachael, which is supposed to be impossible for artificial life forms.
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See also: GODS IN OUR MACHINES BY G.B. GABBLER
“If we look at the early stories around creating artificial women, like Pandora, who was an artificial creation by the gods, of course she unleashed all the terror in the world,” Devlin, whose forthcoming book Turned On examines human-robot sexual interactions, told me over Skype.
“She did the wrong thing and messed up,” she said. “It’s the whole Christian Eve [narrative] as well. You’ve got this really long-standing trope about women—don’t let them do anything, they’ll get it wrong, they’ll do it bad.”
With this response, she further undermines Lee’s dignity, while simultaneously demonstrating that she can be self-aware about her own coding.