Ana Matronic: ‘Robots confuse the boundaries between life and death’

7 Jul 2017

Ana Matronic on stage at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Robotophile and transhumanist Ana Matronic took to the Inspirefest stage predicting a future where gender doesn’t matter when we’re all cyborgs.

If you couldn’t tell, the name Ana Matronic is a sure sign that someone has not just an interest in robots, but an outright fascination and love for them.

That was made clear on stage at Inspirefest 2017 when the Scissor Sisters singer, DJ and author took us back through her life from an obsession with the cult ’70s TV show The Bionic Woman and writing her first self-published zine about robots, to dressing as a robot at a burlesque show in San Francisco.

Future Human

However, the real focus of her talk was the fascinating philosophical questions posed to us in a present and future where the line between human and robot is becoming increasingly blurred.

And if so, what role does gender play – if any – when our brains are in robots or uploaded to the cloud?

The religion of The Bionic Woman

During those days of creating her fanzine in college for The Bionic Woman, played by Jaime Sommers, Matronic went as far as to create her own robot-infused religion, called Bionic Love, based on the philosophies of Joseph Campbell and with Sommers as its “muse and messiah”.

“My religion playfully painted the caring and compassionate Ms Sommers as the union of opposing forces of science and nature,” she said. “She’s the embodiment of the future and herald of the coming technological age and a reminder to never lose your humanity in the face of it.”

It was the work of academic and writer Donna Haraway, however, that roused Matronic’s real interest in the topic of cyborgs and where the concept fits in with human constructs.

What triggered Matronic’s many philosophical questions was Haraway’s surprising revelation that, for her, we don’t have to wait to be a cyborg in the future, as we already are cyborgs.

“She wrote [a book] confirming my deification of The Bionic Woman and transformed my love of robots into something more,” Matronic said.

According to Haraway’s argument, a cyborg doesn’t have to be a half-human, half-machine entity with bionic limbs, but anyone who has had science alter their body in some capacity, such as getting a vaccination.

Quoting Haraway: “In the tradition of Western science and politics, the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The cyborg manifesto is an argument for the pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and the responsibility for their construction… and a world without gender and world without end.”

It was in reading this that Matronic’s discovery and interest in the topic of transhumanism began.

‘Robots confuse the boundaries between life and death’

An example of transhumanism would be the uploading of a person’s consciousness online so that they can continue on, something that is already underway with early brain emulation software.

Unlike things like time travel and inter-dimensional travel, Matronic said, robots are here and they’re real – not just as physical robots, but artificial intelligence as well.

“Robots confuse the boundaries between life and death, human and machine, male and female, master and servant, thinking and feeling, ability and disability, creation and destruction,” she said.

“I take pleasure in the confusion of these boundaries and, as an artist, I have a unique platform to share and study these stories; and, as a transhumanist, I take responsibility of this examination and the construction of new boundaries.”

So what are these boundaries being broken down and built again in a cyborg future?

‘Reboot our operating system in every sense’

For people like Martine Rothblatt working on brain emulation software – and as a transgender person – robots and robot bodies offer a way to detach ourselves the limitations of anatomy. Or, more simply, personhood is about equity, not equipment.

“We have an opportunity in this moment to be prepared for the arrival of mechanical and digital people and I believe it is our responsibility to be prepared,” Matronic said.

“When robots do occupy space in our society. When robot rights and robo-sexuality is not just spoken about in an episode of Futurama. But when it’s actually here, humans will be forced to look around and ask how well we have done for the rights of our fellow humans.”

She continued: “If you don’t do that before the robo-demonstrations, we are going to have problems – and not just with the robots.”

In a sense, Matronic argued, the rise of robots offers humans the chance to “reboot our operating system in every sense”.

It certainly seems as if we are moving into a brave new world.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic