What does intimacy mean? Sometimes it can mean little annoyances: a partner disturbing your sleep, a pet biting your hand, a child doing anything to draw your attention. In her video “Misbehaving (Ro)bots”, Nicole Pérez asks whether technology could hope to replicate these small bothersome quirks that instill a feeling of intimacy.
The narrator of the film speaks lovingly of “her” – his lover. We come to learn that she is not a human, but a collection of small robots designed to simulate the intimacy of a partner 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. It might remind us of 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 being intimate with a mechanical robot? Whether we find the lovers’ tale romantic or disturbing, it might be important if such technological love become common in the future. Secondly, Pérez invites us to think about the theme of intimacy itself. In her video, after all, intimacy is not intellectual or spiritual, but rather habitual and physical.
Do we become intimate with someone not when we know their deepest thoughts, but rather when we get used to their most annoying quirks? Can technology hope to replicate this feeling? Pérez’s film makes us reflect on intimacy as it is, and as it might be.