The Uncanny Valley of Non-Feminine
Slavoj Žižek once mentioned that the true horror of confronting one’s doppelgänger (Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, etc.) is the horror of knowing that one may actually exist out there . This can be understood in the Humean sense, he said, that what the subject knows of himself is that he does not exist but as suppositions of the Other, an empty hole in the topology of social reality, Žižek’s “empty cogito“. Does the same not hold true for society at large when confronted with a prospect of its clones in the form of humanoid artificial intelligence subjects? The true horror of humanoid robots, Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley, resides in the realm of realizing that we may actually exist fully objectively. It is the horror of the disappearance of lack, the horror of realizing that we may not have a lack after all.
As Katherine Hayles (1999:30) noted, although for Lacan language is not a code, for computers language is perfectly a code. Computer language recognizes symbols purely through computational models with one-to-one correspondence between the signifier and the signified. Here, lack does not have a place. Thus, the cogito of the cyborg is purely a cogito of existence, not an empty one. The uncanny valley is thus the condition in which we have to confront this horror of excessive non-humanity — a robot purely in the form of a human being, machines but existing only qua social human being.
If there exists subjects to which language is a code, we are in very deep trouble. One very certain trouble we directly run into is the Lacanian sexuation: a female AI — the gynoid — is not a barred Other, for we understand her mechanisms perfectly. If “the” woman does not exist, “the” gynoid exists qua computerized cognition. (Even, one may go as far to say that cloning and/or neurobiology will eventually make it possible to produce “the” woman.) In computer codes, we no longer have cognitive functions of x which “does not cease not to write itself”, nor the x which “ceases not to write itself” — all conditions must be preprogrammed in functions of if x then y. Coding is an act of masculine writing. The cyborg is both free of castration but not a feminine as such, for it is a phallic subject and and subject to mutation — a non-feminine. The paradox of mutation is of course the fact that although it has a function of castration, it in fact has a probability for the subject to spawn a greater phallus than the one he has just lost. The uncanny valley is the horrific gap of the experience of the non-feminine.
All this is not science fiction. There has recently been a research on the engendering of the Semantic Web — which is just one among the many gender research in new media. It is notions like these that further signify how new code languages (artificial intelligence, semantic web, etc), fundamentally different from human language and cognition, will undoubtedly trouble the sexuation of contemporary society. As Foucault was already well aware, sex is subject to historical change — only this time, the change may be so much more fundamentally so.