This week, our guest on The Feedback Loop is British documentary filmmaker and journalist, Jenny Kleeman. We discuss topics from her recently published and provocative book: Sex Robots & Vegan Meat: Adventures at the Frontier of Birth, Food, Sex, and Death.
In addition to these existential and controversial topics, we also discuss how technology is preventing humans from partaking in the personal growth they need for their own health and happiness, as well as how these technologies disproportionately are impacting women.
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Host: Steven Parton // Music by: Amine el Filali
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Jenny Kleeman, Steven Parton
Jenny Kleeman 00:00
In some cases, it might help to have those technologies along the way. But when they're being sold to us as an alternative for behavioral change, that's where I have a problem with something that is telling us that we don't need to change, we don't need to grow and we don't need to develop because here's a product that you can buy that will do the work for you. That has lots of unintended consequences that may not be worth it. That's where,
Steven Parton 00:38
Hello, everyone, you're listening to the feedback loop on singularity radio, where we keep you up to date on the latest technological trends and how they're impacting the transformation of consciousness and culture, from the individual to society at large. This week, our guest is British documentary filmmaker and journalist, Ginni klieman, who recently published her provocative book, sex robots and vegan meat adventures at the frontier of birth, food, sex, and death. This takes us on a journey exploring some profoundly expansive and existential questions, including discussing babies born and bags, euthanasia, with the assistance of artificial intelligence, lab grown meat, and sex robots. While these topics in and of themselves, give us plenty to talk about. Deeper themes do emerge in this dialogue, centering heavily on how technology is preventing humans from partaking and the personal growth they need for their own health and happiness. In addition to how these technologies are disproportionately affecting women, as discussed within her book, at one point, Jenny asks the creators of a sex robot, why do they have British accents to which the creator of the sex robot replied, Well, British people just sound more clever. And in this case, that unnecessary stereotype does hold true. Jenny is articulate, open minded, and it was an absolute joy to talk to, please be sure to check out the show notes if you want to grab a link to her work into her book. And on that note, I think we're good to go. So without further ado, everyone, please welcome to the feedback loop, Jenny klieman. But what I found so interesting about you in particular, is the fact that there's so many things I feel like I agree with you on, and so many things that I feel like I disagree with you on. So it's a really lovely balance. And I think that's natural, because the focus of your books, deals with sex, death, birth and food, which are probably four of the most existential, philosophical questions that you could possibly address. So what was it that made you go for those topics, as your four main points to cover was there a driving force that kind of made those topics come alive for you, or something that made you want to talk about those specifically,
Jenny Kleeman 02:59
it was more practical considerations. But I'm a journalist who's always looking for stories, and that I had found some stories in the realm of death. And then I found some incredible stories in the realm of sex. And then I thought, I've got sex and death, birth, food, sex, and death. Those are the four pillars of human experience, I will I will explore those and use use the structure of those four pillars as a way of looking at, you know, our relationship with technology.
Steven Parton 03:28
And what was your kind of view of our relationship with technology going into the going into this project?
Jenny Kleeman 03:36
I go into everything pretty open minded, but with a raised eyebrow. I don't think anybody you know, alive on this planet today can be anything but grateful for technology. I think, you know, I've said this before, you know, if it weren't for technology, I would have been perpetually pregnant over the past 20 years, I would not have the life that I have. Now. My children may have not survived childbirth. I'm very, very grateful for it. But I think we have been schooled into looking at technology like to a prison that science fiction gives us of either being incredibly wonderful, or incredibly bad. And we tend to not ask those kind of mundane questions, which, in my career as a journalist are my bread and butter of just being a little bit skeptical, as I said, going in with an eyebrow raised, and, and getting the kind of more nuanced answers that perhaps it's not all 100% good, or perhaps it's not all 100% bad, and perhaps what's bad, are the unintended things that might happen as a consequence of relying on on technology to solve problems for us. Yeah, did
Steven Parton 04:49
your perspective on some of these topics change after this experience?
Jenny Kleeman 04:56
Certainly. I mean, there were many things. For example, when I when I started The food section of the book, which is about meat grown in laboratories, when I started looking into it, at first, I thought, oh, there's going to be great stories here, because it's going to be really yucky. And then. And then when I first looked at it, I thought, maybe this is just the most amazing thing in the world. And maybe I'm speaking to people who are going to be winning Nobel prizes. And, you know, there was a kind of superficial level of which you can criticize lab grown meat, and that people were back at the point where I started researching it, which is, oh, it's grown in fetal bovine serum, it's grown in this the least vegan substance on Earth. You know, it's not what it claims to be. And I pretty quickly realized that those are not kind of legitimate grounds to disregard the entire project because of course, there are, you know, every every technology goes through serious phase of phase of research and development, and nobody's happy to stay at that level of, of, you know, growing a meat that's supposed to be good for the planet and good for animals in fetal bovine serum. So I kind of, I was quite worried almost at first that there wouldn't be enough to explore because it seemed to be such an unequivocably good thing about I could have still written about it in that respect. But then I kind of got to know the, the mindset and motivation of some of the people in the industry and began to realize a lot of the problems that were being papered over. And then there was still the fundamental question of like, why are we doing this? Why are we going to all this trouble? And it comes down to a view of human nature Really? which is our human beings capable of fundamental change? What is natural for human beings? You know, is it natural for us to be greedy and selfish and incapable of change? Or are we actually capable of quite radical change when we need to change when we really buy the idea that we should change? So yeah, quite a few of my preconceptions were challenged along the way. But I think of the four technologies that I look at in the book, some of them are, have a have a far greater potential for good than others. So artificial wombs have enormous potential for good, which makes them which was what makes them potentially so dangerous, because it's so hard to argue against a technology that can save incredibly vulnerable, tiny little babies. You know, of course, you're not going to say this technology shouldn't exist, and that babies should continue to grow up incredibly disabled, because they've been born premature and not been given the best care possible when they were born. So it's not like, I went on the same journey with each of the technologies in the book. But I'd be interested to hear what you think of those technologies and where you disagree with me.
Steven Parton 07:46
Yeah, well, maybe we can come to that. We'll come to that. Yeah, that might be the best approach, because I think we'll probably come across that as we continue through this. So you mentioned specifically with vegan meat, seeing that there were kind of ulterior motives that were operating behind the scenes and that things were getting papered over as you described it? What were some of those things that you saw that shifted you from thinking this is potentially fully altruistic and beneficial to thinking, oh, wow, there's actually some things here that are quite concerning.
Jenny Kleeman 08:22
I'm not a tech journalist. So a lot of the culture of startups and of Silicon Valley was new to me. So when I went to see some of the startups in Silicon Valley, who we're working with this substance, which still doesn't really have a name, no one really knows what to call it. But we know what it is, it's meat grown in a lab, but not in the body of an animal. I found the smoke and mirrors of trying to dazzle me and dazzle potential investors with the product. And gloss over the extent to which it wasn't ready for market yet, a gloss over what was problematic. That depressed me, because I had been speaking to academics or people who are used to being funded with public money and who aren't constantly trying to sell you an idea. And ever were as interested in what doesn't work as What does work and want to share that information. I've been speaking to academics, and then I've been people speaking to people like Bruce Friedrich from the Good Food Institute, who is a very remarkable person incredibly smart and not motivated by money at all, as far as I can tell, you know, a someone on a genuine mission to make the world better for animals and for people. But I think he's very motivated by animal rights. So those are the people who I was really impressed by. And then I move into this world where I'm asking pretty basic questions and being kind of people were trying to dazzle me with with science and taking me into rooms with impressive robots. crucibles full of seeds. And they were putting on a performance, which I know would be very entertaining for a lot of people and would make really great copy. Like if I was writing a magazine feature, this would be great. This would be fantastic. But not if you're really trying to really get to grips with is this the future and probe a little deeper and ask, you know, wants some basic facts like, how much does this cost? When is it going to go on sale? And when you ask academics, that kind of thing, they're like, Oh, we don't know that at all, you know, but of course, you can't say that if you're in a startup and you you want to get venture capital investment, you have to be really confident there has to be, there could be no doubt, this has to be what saving the future. And I think there is this whole idea of you have to sell this not as a you know, even if you look at plant based meats, rather than than lab grown meat, even that is sold as a kind of as a tech thing, rather than as a food thing. Like we've, we've hacked plants. And we can recreate the molecular structure of proteins from animals by using our clever computers and robots because you know, there are a whole tranche of Silicon Valley investors who are never going to invest in like bean burgers. But if you can say, Oh, I really hacked the protein structure of animals, and I can recreate it using plants. That's a much more attractive proposition. So that annoyed me going in and being given a marketing pitch. But maybe that's just because I had been spoiled by having spoken to some very earnest people beforehand. And as someone who isn't a tech journalist, I wasn't. I wasn't prepared for that particular kind of culture. I wasn't expecting to sort of see that. And it made for some very entertaining scenes in my book. But it didn't get me the answers that I that I wanted, because I was looking for what was problematic. That doesn't mean I was looking for, for what I should criticize. I was just looking for something that came close to the unvarnished truth rather than I didn't want to receive a marketing spiel, per se.
Steven Parton 11:59
So one of the things I think is that you're alluded to there that I kind of picked up through the book is there's this very big struggle between choice people making personal choices that get to the same end point versus technology, potentially taking a very consumer based approach to driving people to that point. But I wonder, do you, are you concerned that it doesn't matter how we get there? If we get there? Do you think that it necessarily is so bad that technology might kind of force the conversation?
Jenny Kleeman 12:36
I don't think it's bad for technology to force the conversation. I guess my problem is with capitalism, with the kind of capitalist consumerist view of individuals as very basic units, incapable of change, who just want to amass as much as possible for as little as possible. And that doesn't chime with my experience of human beings, or my experience or any of our experiences of human behavior over the past year, when we've been capable of massive change quite often for altruistic reasons when we kind of have to be. So I guess, I think a lot of these technologies, we can get to the point where they're trying to take us without them. In some cases, it might help to have those technologies along the way. But when they're being sold to us as an alternative for behavioral change, that's where I have a problem with something that is telling us that we don't need to change, we don't need to grow. And we don't need to develop because here's a product that you can buy that will do the work for you. That has lots of unintended consequences that may not be worth it. That's where have
Steven Parton 13:45
you said it's, in some ways the debate around these issues is more revealing about human nature that what these technologies actually tell us about the future. What do you think that specifically, you felt was revealed to you about the human condition as you explored these technologies?
Jenny Kleeman 14:03
I think we don't, we don't think very highly of one another, we assume that everybody has very base motivations, and that nobody will be able to change. I think with sex robots, I learnt a lot that people kind of take for granted. The fact that it might be good for a lonely person to have an artificial companion, without thinking through what that means in terms of further isolating lonely people. And the kind of, and the idea that technology can stand in for a person and that can somehow be good or useful, when in fact, what a lonely person really needs is to find a way to have human contact. That worried me, I mean, sex robots in particular, there was a there's a passage in the book where I look at different there are some different academics that have different takes on it. And all of that takes into be projections of their original philosophical standpoint. There's a woman who's a radical feminist who's very against them, but she's also very against All pornography and all forms of sex work, there is a much more liberal computer scientist who is you sees a lot of benefit in them. But she's also written articles in the past about her own polyamory and she obviously has has a kind of much broader idea of of of sex then a lot of hetero mano heteronormative people as she calls it. And I guess I was projecting part of myself on to them as well, you know, I'm a kind of sensitive soul that is saddened by the potential emptiness of relationships without empathy. And, you know, I found particularly the arguments in favor of that technology, that it will help elderly people, bereaved people, disabled people really, really upset me because that that's makes so many basic assumptions about human nature and human beings not being bothered with people who are disfigured or disabled, or a bit weird. What does it say about ourselves that we think this technology is going to do that job?
Steven Parton 16:08
Yeah, I started on on one and thinking the same way that potentially This is a beautiful thing for people who, like you said, Maybe just a bit weird, maybe socially awkward people maybe who have just certain barriers in the way towards being able to form a healthy relationship. But then I did kind of start to think about it more in that thought a basically appeared to me that was, how insane is it that potentially these people in this workshop or warehouse are driving the the philosophical, ethical debate around like social dynamics, and what that means like, this is this is a subject matter that obviously, you know, our social media and the rates of depression link to all that show us how confused we are about social dynamics between different mediums, our political polarization, just human nature throughout time and war and everything. This is such a complex issue. Yeah. And to think that perhaps those people are driving that conversation is like, Are those the qualified people to decide that?
Jenny Kleeman 17:10
And what are their motivations? You know, they say they're doing it to help people, but they, they are doing it because they want to shift stock, you know, this is what they found out. They're really good at making, you know, if they really wanted to help people, they go and train and be a therapist. No, no, they they're doing it to sell the units here. And there's an argument that comes up often about sex dolls and sex robots in particular is that they could be you know, like, methadone for sex offenders, or you could give them to insoles. And I talked about this in the book that, that on a very superficial level, you think, or maybe that would be a good idea would pacify, pacify people like that. But then you think about child sex dolls, and how we will automatically know that that would be a very bad idea to give a pedophile a child sex doll, or a child sex robot, because you feel that that would feed, whatever urges they have, and not satiated? Well, if that's the case, then why why would $1 or a robot have a fully grown woman, not do the same thing. So again, it's all of the technologies. And in the book, you're kind of sitting there doing this ethical thinking, and then you think, but hold on, we could just solve this problem by just reaching out to people or improving our relationships or accepting compromise. You know, I was on a radio show, I was on Coast to Coast AM, a week or so ago, an American radio show, and someone rang in, who owned a real doll, who'd spent a lot of money on a real doll. And I spoke to him and he said, you know, the thing is, I've just had enough with all these feminists that hate men. And I just, you know, it's just much easier and much less expensive than a divorce to get one of these robots. And it's like, well, actually, this is exactly the point that I'm making, that the world is a rich place. And there are lots and lots of women and there are in his like, I'm a conservative man, I'm never going to find a woman who will make me happy, who will be happy to be with me. And it's like, you know, there are conservative women, you know, what you need is to not be at home with your doll, go and go out and experience the richness of human existence.
Steven Parton 19:16
Yeah, in that case, it seems like the situation where somebody needs to do that personal work or figure out that like to write off an entire gender because they don't have a good connection doesn't seem like the right approach.
Jenny Kleeman 19:29
And that's the point of all of these technologies is they stop you from doing the personal work that allows you to grow so that you don't need them. And it's that personal work that I think is is what the world needs rather than these four bits of technology.
Steven Parton 19:42
Yeah, it's hard again for me because I can't help but wonder if that is is a driver of the conversation though, right? Like where, for instance, Uber and Airbnb, kind of forced a lot of countries and cities and municipalities to have a conversation about new forms of, you know, tourism and like how to adopt having people stay in other people's homes and having just normal people driving strangers around the cars like it forced the conversation that potentially was a good one to have. And I wonder if maybe we'll see that with sex robots where it's we're going to ask those ethical questions as they get more real.
Jenny Kleeman 20:23
I think the problem is that we don't ask them because we're so we either find them really funny, entertaining, or we think they're going to be completely perfect. We don't really look at the imperfections of them and how far away we all from them being perfect. Or, you know, there's a kind of tabloid newspaper in the UK that every that quotes me in my book, like every week, because they just want to write something about sex robots. And I think there's a reporter going through page by page having different facts, because it's about the stories that we want to tell ourselves as well about these technologies. I mean, it's interesting, you bring up Uber, Uber and Airbnb, I live in London, I grew up in London, I was a young woman growing up in London, and it was really difficult to get home at night and dangerous. You know, after 1112 at night, there was no tube. You couldn't black taxis very, very expensive, you could never get them. The idea now that my daughter when she grows up can get an Uber of I can track where where she is, you know, it's revolutionize things, it's changed the the black cabs here in London. At first they're very cross, but now they realize that they can't, you know, they don't have this monopoly anymore. It's a really good thing. But I think it's not necessarily a technology, you can compare to the ones that I've been looking at, because birth read sex and death, and they are fundamental parts of what make us who we are. And they have always been these things that are beyond our control. Until now, when you're looking at Uber and Airbnb, these are bad systems, what the, the systems that they've replaced, are bad systems that they've improved on. But they're not fundamental pieces of biology that are being improved on are fundamental parts of the human existence, the human experience that are being improved on. And I think that's that's the kind of key we're at this point now, where technology can change these things have always been beyond our control.
Steven Parton 22:16
Yeah, that the control aspects seems like a really important one here. And I wonder that it seems like that's the big thing each one of these technologies is doing is making birth on demands making meet on demand making sex on demand. And I'm wondering if it's is it can we can we find our chaos, I guess, and our uncontrollable aspects of life and other regions? And and can it be okay for these things to come under our control, would that necessarily be a bad thing,
Jenny Kleeman 22:49
they can never be under our control, we desperately try and control them, we cannot control those things, there will always be some curve or a virus, for example, or something that is beyond our control, that completely changes the way we live. And I think it is human nature, to try and control the world around us. But it is also human nature to be able to adapt to the lack of control we have around us. And I think that's what makes all these technologies really seductive is the is the illusion of control that they give us. And that's what we're all desperate for. I mean, you know, I've had children, it's terrifying. Knowing how at the mercy of nature you are, even if you have a very medicalized birth, nobody can tell you what's going to happen. And especially in a world now, where you're used to being able to know exactly what the traffic is like everywhere, how long it's going to take you to get anywhere, what the weather is, like when it's going to rain, and what percentage chance of it, you know, to a very high degree of accuracy. Now ancestors were much more comfortable sitting with a lack of control because we didn't control anything. Now we feel like we can control things or we feel like we have the data that will allow us to control things, but there are still these parts of our lives like relationships are messy, you can't control your partner or there are a lot of people would like to there are lots of things beyond your control. Birth completely chaotic. The way that we like to eat animals relies on a lot of stuff that goes terribly out of control causes pandemics and global warming. And same with death, the most terrifying thing of all that we can't control. So I think there is you know, the guy Oren cats, who was the first person to grow and eat lab grown meat in the world who nobody ever gives credit to the artist Israeli artists living in in Australia. He calls this the psychopathologies of control, that human beings have this kind of madness of trying to control everything and there can be terrible consequences of that, you know, the Holocaust is part of that same mindset of eugenics of Oh, if we can just get this right then we'll then everything will be perfect. But the point is, we can't control everything. Everything has unintended consequences that we can't See, and actually the real power comes from being able to adapt to those circumstances that we can't control? I would say,
Steven Parton 25:09
yeah, I'm thinking a lot of just about the how much fear drives that in society. And in my back of my mind, I'm thinking, what are the like socio economic conditions that are making people so incapable of dealing with? With the lack of control? They have? Not really a question, just a thought in the back of my mind there. You talk a lot about how these technologies specifically are negative have negative consequences for women. Specifically, you were just mentioning birth. And I wonder, Is there not something maybe liberating or empowering about having women not have to endure that hardship and be maybe feeling more empowered to have kids,
Jenny Kleeman 25:57
I was torn on this one, particularly as somebody who's had children. It's so loaded on either side, there is a weird fetishization of mothers and babies in Western culture in in most cultures that pregnancy and motherhood is both this incredibly precious thing, perfect thing. But also something where you become public property. And you can be judged all the time for drinking from a plastic bottle or eating the wrong cheese or in Spain, you can eat ham, but you can't eat ham if you're British, or what you know, there's different rules everywhere of what you can do. And if you're a good mother, and so much of a definition of a good woman is being a good mother. A good mother is a good mother before their child is even born because they're prepared to, to follow all these rules. And my God, I followed all those rules, I did everything, you know, I tried to be when I was trying to get pregnant, I did everything right, I didn't have a drop of alcohol when I was trying to get pregnant. I was uh, you know, it was absurd, how, how careful I was. And you can go a little bit mad that way. But in many ways, I was internalizing this idea that you turn yourself into a laboratory, where your sole function is to incubate a fetus in the most optimal way. And that's your responsibility as a good mother is to be an excellent incubator. And, and I was very aware, when I was pregnant, that my husband got to choose who to tell that we were having a baby, whereas with me, it was physically obvious. You know, I was a reporter on television at the time, and I was quite naive. And I had several job, jobs full through, because I was pregnant, I thought people would continue to want me to be on screen, but they didn't want me to be on screen. And I also had lots of people assume what job choices I would want to make after having had the baby with my first child, simply because I'd had a baby, well, she's not gonna want to do that anymore. She'll somebody once said to me, You don't know you know, you probably want to do something very different. You might want to make jam for all I know, said somebody who was not going to name but who was very, in a very pivotal position for my career. A woman may I add? So? Yes, the thing about this technology, Exogenesis artificial wombs is it would allow for complete equality between men and women, the reproductive burden between men and women would be identical, both sides would just provide the gametes, off you go. And that's very attractive. On one level, there are also lots of really good reasons for this technology to exist. I mean, I explore in the book of people who can't be pregnant, not for social reasons, but for biological reasons, you know, gay men, trans women, and women who are in a situation, you know, I lost a baby midway through a pregnancy, where if a technology like this has existed, I would I would have another son. So it was bit it was very strange for me writing that part of the book, because I don't normally include, I include a lot of my own opinions and reactions, but not a lot of my own personal life. In my writing, it doesn't come naturally to me, I found myself thinking about, you know, I need to think what heterosexual women would would benefit from an artificial women. And it's like, well, you know, I was in that position where if this technology had existed, it would have radically changed also my life. So there are many positive applications for this technology. But again, this comes down to the difference between a perfect world and the real world and in a real world where women are constantly judged for how they behave during pregnancy, and how are they are they maximizing outcomes for their baby, you can imagine a technology designed to save very premature babies who are very vulnerable. It is not so much of a stretch of the imagination. There's not so much of a conceptual leap to say to define a very vulnerable child as a child who is being incubated inside the body of a woman who is behaving irresponsibly. And you could be a woman who seemed to be not fit to just state your child. And in that world, I can imagine pregnant women being told that they, their pregnancy had to be transferred into an artificial womb, I really don't think that that's a crazy idea, I think that really could happen. And then there are also lots of why not lots of a small vocal minority of crazy men who would love to have technology like this would mean that they could have a woman less future, and could do away with women altogether. But I think that is there a vocal and crazy minority, but the wider problem with it is how it would redefine the rights of, of women, the reproductive rights of women. So it's a long answer to say, there are huge benefits that would come from reproductive equality for women, and men, but those benefits would come from women giving up the One Power that they have always unequivocally had, which is the power to just state and produce babies. And it would also lead to a position where they could be massively disenfranchised, and their reproductive choices.
Steven Parton 31:17
So potentially, one way you could frame it is that you'd rather see society, for instance, be more comfortable with you, for instance, being an on air pregnant woman than you having to have was sorry, aka Genesis. Genesis, I was gonna say that eight, that wouldn't make sense. Rather than that being the option, just so you could stay on air, you could actually have the experience like, and then that way we'd see society,
Jenny Kleeman 31:47
or just just, you know, not even just being on air and pregnant, just this assumption that there is going to be a massive cost to my career from having children, you know, whereas nobody assumes there's a costume, a man's career, in terms of support for maternity care support, in terms of there being proper, adequate paid childcare that everybody gets access to. So it doesn't just automatically fall to women. And if men and women were paid more equally, generally, then it wouldn't always be the woman's career that takes a backseat when, when a family is created. So I mean, this the the potential application of this technology is more of a reflection of how messed up we are when it comes to how we make families because at the moment, women are meant to be, you know, competing with men in the workplace, but also doing this thing with their bodies. That means that they cannot participate in an equal way. But if we made workplaces, you know, more equal, more accepting and more embracing of the fact that this is how we produce citizens of the world, then this technology, you know, could be used for what it should be used for, which is for premature babies, and for people who, who can't be biologically pregnant,
Steven Parton 33:00
and taking it from birth to death. What aspects of the on demand death, would you say, potentially affected women negatively? was their aspect there?
Jenny Kleeman 33:15
Well, the thing that interested me was when I looked at the statistics, or in all places where assisted dying is legal women choose it more than men, even though suicide is thought of as a much more male phenomenon. And I read various scientific papers on why this might be. Some people suggest that it's because women are much more used to doing the caring and being cared for, and no more fearful of being a burden. So when that option is there, they're more likely to take it. I mean, overall, the technologies that I look at in the book, that the death technology was the most absurd and ridiculous and death should go at the end of a book about birth, food, sex, and death. But part of the reason why it was at the end is it was the kind of most extreme example of here's something we really don't need, that we can really deal with, with what we already have in an existing way. It's a symptom of a real problem we have, which is we haven't worked out how to give people a good death. It's not the solution to it. It's a symptom of it. And, and yeah, I'm sure that if, if, if there's this option available where without a doctor say so you can go and download a machine that will kill you in this kind of fantastical way. It's something that vulnerable men will use. So suicidal men, the men who are generally much more represented in the statistics than women, they will use that more often. But I think also women too, and the fact that women were suicide, assisted suicide is legal that women choose it more often. It shows that we have work to do in dealing with death, but I'm very much Probably the right to die, I'm very much the right to die, and I'm very much pro the right to die, where doctors are involved, which is a slightly different thing from a lot of the people in, in my book who want it to be a power that only they have. It's their life, they should have the right to choose when it ends. And I can totally buy that. But I think we do need to have an independent assessment of whether or not someone's in sound mind.
Steven Parton 35:25
So again, same and it's really just the means getting there in terms of Is it a choice? versus Is it something that is maybe too, too much an illusion of control? Yeah, through maybe a bad marketing scheme or somebody's perspective.
Jenny Kleeman 35:40
And also this, this, you know, in exchange for the illusion of control, what you get is a far less reliable way of dying, than if you have an assisted suicide in a clinic with somebody giving you a dose of something which you know, will work. And and when you think about it, when you're going to die, and you've taken that decision that you want to die. It really should work, you know, because you've said goodbye to everyone, and you've made your peace with your existence. So you really want it to work. But yes, it's about what do you prefer prepared to sacrifice in order to have the control that you crave? Or the illusion of control that you crave?
Steven Parton 36:16
Yeah, that's to say too much on the identity politics. version of this, I guess. But why? How many women did you encounter? Who were kind of operating behind the scenes of each one of these technologies, because it seems like it was predominantly men, except for maybe that one woman working with x International, who ended up getting out of it anyway.
Jenny Kleeman 36:39
There were no women at all. I didn't speak to any of them. I know of two women who were involved in developing these technologies. There's a woman who works for the robotics team of this creations, she works on the AI. She wasn't there when I was there having the tool but but she's appeared in documentaries that I've seen subsequently. So there is a woman there. And one of the scientists who pioneered the biobank, the artificial womb, where lambs are grown is a woman, Emily Partridge, a Canadian woman. But I tried to get access to that team. And I was going to talk to Alan flake who was like her supervisor. And then that didn't happen. But I think even if it had, even if I had got that access, it wouldn't it would have wouldn't have been through her. But those are two names among I mean, I can name so many robot manufacturers, I could name you so many people making meat in laboratories, and so many people in all the other spaces and they're all they're all men. So it is very much but I don't know if that's just a reflection of the tech industry in general.
Steven Parton 37:44
Yeah, that's a hard that's a question. I think we're still very much trying to figure out the answer to what was it like speaking of the women slash woman at the Abyss? What was it like meeting harmony? What was that experience like media sex robot who is talking back to you?
Jenny Kleeman 38:04
It was really weird, because I didn't know how to talk to her. Because as a as an interviewer, you're thinking about what your interviewee is thinking. But she wasn't thinking she was no consciousness there. And there was nothing to empathize with there. So I found it really awkward. I found it really odd. And I was kind of lost for words. I didn't really know what to say to her. So I kind of said, Oh, hello, how are you? And she was, you know, as posh in English as I am. Very well, thanks. How are you? It was a very, very strange thing. And it clearly I mean, you know, she's far from perfect. She, you know, she was a robotic head on a sex doll body. And you know, her jaw was quite stiff. And, and some of her answers were not that great, but some of them were really quite sophisticated. And I was impressed by a lot of them. But I found I would much rather talk to Matt McMillan than her. I, you know, it's not like if you'd said to me, go on, you can have 10 minutes on your own with her, you know, just you and her in the room. I wouldn't have liked that. And yes, maybe it's the uncanny valley, but it's also just the emptiness of having a conversation with a bit of software. I don't know for me, it wasn't convincing enough, it would have to be pretty convincing for it to be you know, really fun. I mean, you know, we've all done this on our phones that you ask Siri something stupid and you have a laugh for about two minutes. But that's it. You know, it's two minutes and then when you're supposed to be doing a proper interview or talking for an extended period of time. It's just weird.
Steven Parton 39:39
Did it give you a moment of Oh shit, this is what the future is gonna be like did did you see it as real potential? Did you think this is gonna be quite a while before I have to deal with this, like, Did it have any epiphany like, moment for you though?
Jenny Kleeman 39:55
The real epiphany for me came when I had this Skype call with this. These rare Got manufacturers in China. And I saw how much more sophisticated their robots were and how there was one robot that sang and moved. And when she was singing, she just the way she moved in the way she moved her head. And the way she sort of shut her eyes as she was singing was so realistic. And yes, that's not having a conversation with a robot. So that's not testing out the AI. But here's something that really looks like you imagine a robot and Android or gynoid to really look. So there I thought, okay, yeah, we're really gonna see something. But with harmony, I felt like what I'm seeing here is a very early prototype of something that in 20 years time really is going to be an artificial companion for someone, and maybe they'll have to be a particular kind of someone. But this wasn't a kind of mannequin with a speaker in its head, like some of the other sex robots are. This was something you could have a real conversation with, even if it was pretty weird.
Steven Parton 40:57
Did you walk away from all of this feeling more optimistic? Or more pessimistic?
Jenny Kleeman 41:02
It's a really good question. Um, in some respects, I was more pessimistic, because I felt like all of these products exist, because people think there's a market for them. And that makes me feel pessimistic. Because I wish there wasn't a market for them. I wish we could kind of grow and develop a bit more. But then again, you see that change is already happening around the world in all of these areas, the right to die is being rolled out in so many more places, women have more reproductive rights. You know, people are eating less meat in America and in the UK, although they're eating a lot more in China and India,
Steven Parton 41:39
have you have you stopped eating meat yet?
Jenny Kleeman 41:42
That's a really good question. The answer is no. But I eat a lot less meat, a lot less meat. But No, I haven't. And I think that's part of the issue as well. It's been so interesting for me, if you've watched the, if you had the Joe Rogan podcast, you'll see that I'm arguing with Joe Rogan. And I'm really doing the vegan arguments, Joe Rogan. He's like, I kind of can't believe that I'm trying to convince this carnivore that eating meat is bad when I still eat meat. And no, I mean, I do still eat meat, I eat a lot less of it. I think the problem, I think a lot of people are really alienated by ethical veganism, and this the purity behind it. And the idea that you have to drink vegan wine because otherwise you're, you're a bad person or you everything has to be vegan. I think, in fact that the kind of think that the world would be a lot better place, if people felt that you weren't, you didn't have to be ethically pure, in order to do good things for the planet, and actually just eating less meat or to giving your kids I mean, my kids don't necessarily think that the most delicious part of the meal is the meat. And quite often, they'll eat a meal that is totally vegan, and think it's as nice as anything else. And that's the key is for there not to be kind of pious foods or foods that make you excellent yoga or whatever, you know, kind of ethically pure person, but just food that tastes good that happens to not have meat in it. So yeah, I'm a hypocrite. But I'm working on myself. And at least I'm honest about it. You know, I tried to eat less meat, and I certainly really don't eat beef very often. Beef is really very bad for the planet. Chicken, maybe not as bad for the planet as as meat grown in a lab. But we don't know, it's still early days with that. But we all know, the most efficient protein to eat is insects. And I have actually tried some insects since writing the book. And they weren't too bad. I'm not sure I can see myself talking into them every day. But I'm into that idea of kind of alternative proteins. But yeah, it's a process. And I guess, you know, there, there is a perfect counter argument to my position, which is yes, we could all change our behavior, but the planet is dying, and we need to change our behavior quickly. And we don't have time, but equally in the time that it's taking to grow meats, that is, you know, the costs less than meat grown from an animal and tastes the same. If we just got people eating meat once a week or twice a week, we could do a lot of really good work on the planet. Instead of telling people you know, it's a choice between being a really big pig or being a monk. You know, there's a middle ground.
Steven Parton 44:19
Yeah, so would you say that's maybe one of the big challenges in terms of people not making the decision and relying on the technology is maybe the absolutism or the reluctance for nuance, or maybe even just, I guess, like, to an extent empathy, you know, the ability to see somebody and say, You don't have to be perfect, but I see that you're trying.
Jenny Kleeman 44:39
I think part of the issue is, is the identity that goes with the diet and feeding into this world of identity politics that we live in, what kind of person are you, you know, what do you eat? What kind of exercise do you do? The fact that diet has been so closely, you know, aligned to a particular kind of politics and global outlook is a shame. Actually, because there is a middle ground where you, you're not making a political statement, you're just doing what's good for your body in the planet. And you don't need to eat that, you know, this is the whole point is you can make a really big event out of eating meat once a week, you can have a big family meal, that you spend a really long time cooking together. And it's a lovely thing. And I have a theory that you can't get fat off things that you spend a lot of time as a family cooking together, you know, I do think it's a part of that has to do with how we food in general kind of convenience foods, things we just throw in on. That's what we need to really challenge. But at the moment, the people who are challenging the meat industry, are people who are able to achieve some standards of ethical purity that are beyond most of us, I would say,
Steven Parton 45:42
yeah, there's a really interesting bit of nuance there that I feel like spreads across many industries and trains of thought, which is we're almost undermining our own efforts. By being so radical about our attempts to get people to change, like by forcing people to want to be vegan, we're actually probably having less people go vegan, and more technology created to solve the issue. Whereas if we were maybe more like, Hey, I get it, like, it's hard. And sometimes you can't, sometimes you just want something tasty. Sometimes you feel like you just need that extra meal. But if we can just do less of it, then that would be better for everybody. It feels weird that that's potentially one of the major barriers here.
Jenny Kleeman 46:27
Yes. I think also, you know, we really enjoy judging other people. You know, it's a lot of fun. And that's what people do on social media is that you've said that you're a bad person you eat, you're a bad person, you're condoning the murder of millions of animals by doing that you're a bad person. And actually, you know, again, this is where you need room for nuance. Some people, most people eat meat or not bad people, most people who eat meat really regret the fact that animals have to die, to provide it and really don't want to know about how their meat is made. Because they know it's probably really horrible. And a lot of the people who are growing meat in labs would say that's what their product is for. It's for those people who don't want the animals to die. And maybe there is a real place for meat grown in labs as as part of, of that process of getting those people to eat less meat, but it isn't the answer. The problem is human appetites. You know, the problem is how much we meet. And actually we could come to the same place. If we just, instead of celebrating vegan food, for example, as incredibly healthy or incredibly noble, or you know, the sort of person who you know, we can we all can all visualize what this this person would look like you would eat
Steven Parton 47:38
Jenny Kleeman 47:41
if it could just be this is really tasty. It's just really nice. And it happens to not, you know, quite often I'll eat things, and they'll be really nice. And there's been no animal involved in this meal. And that's, that's the world we should be working towards not where food is so politically loaded, I would say. And that works in either way. You know, if you look at meat, and you look at Joe Rogan's reaction to me putting forward they're pretty strong arguments against eating meat, he took it very personally, my husband really likes to eat meat. My husband is a big, strong guy. He really likes to eat meat. And when I was writing the section of the book, where I was laying out why eating meat was indefensible. He took it really personally, because he was like, Don't take it away from me. It's a part of who I am. It's, you know, the answer to the environmental problem, carbon capture, let's just invent some machines that don't take away my meat, because it's a really, you know, intimate part of what makes us who we are. Yeah,
Steven Parton 48:33
it's really amazing how invested we get certain aspects of her life. Yeah, especially when they're one of these four fundamental aspects of her life. Get good.
Jenny Kleeman 48:43
Now, I wanted to say and what was so interesting was before I wrote the book, I thought that it kind of doesn't go the way that you think it's going to go that these are such intimate parts of our life. But you'd think that sex and death are the most taboo and the most intimate, but the things that were most personal, and that people took the most personally were birth and feed. Because I mean, birth is the most intimate of all experiences, it was very difficult for me to find anyone who would be prepared to talk about how they would prefer to grow their baby outside of their body, or people who've gone through tragedies of trying to conceive it's a very, very personal thing. And with food, it's it's something that people have such an immediate visceral reaction to, you know, you put it inside your body, you eat it, it's a very intimate thing. So I was expecting sex and death to be the really to be areas but it was more birth than food.
Steven Parton 49:37
Do you have any guesses as to why it was that way?
Jenny Kleeman 49:41
Just because it's it's there's so much judgment involved. I think we're better now with sex of accepting that some people are into some crazy stuff and that people need companionship, and it's healthy to have sex. Whereas, you know, as I was saying, with food, it's such a political marker of who you are. what you eat. And with birth? It's so political. I mean, for women, it's like if if you saying that you want to have your own biological child, but you don't want to carry it yourself is so taboo. I don't know anybody. I mean, I was trying to find women, there are lots of women every year who use a surrogate for social reasons. And I spoke to fertility doctors in LA who do it so many fertility doctors do it, I could, they could not provide me with anybody who, who's prepared to talk about it. It's just the last bastion of unfeminine behavior of saying that you don't want to sacrifice your body to pregnancy.
Steven Parton 50:34
Sounds like we have a lot of social work to do as human beings.
Jenny Kleeman 50:37
I think we do. But I think we're really good at I mean, the fact that we're having these conversations means that we're prepared to engage with these ideas. It's just the idea that we're just going to blindly buy some kind of product that will solve the problem. That's what worries me. Well, I
Steven Parton 50:52
appreciate you engaging in these ideas with me, and I want to respect your time. But before we go, is there any thing you'd like to tell our listeners about that you're working on where to get your book, anything at all?
Jenny Kleeman 51:06
Well, I'm working on lots of things all at once ideas. My second book, I'm finding, you know, I'm a reporter, I like going out and interviewing people, I'm finding it so hard, not being able to travel. So my big plans for my second book are on hold. But I have a radio show on times radio, which is on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings UK time, but you can hear it all over the world. And my book is called sex robots and vegan meat adventures at the frontier of birth, food, sex, and death. And you can buy it in all good bookshops and probably some bad bookshops as well. And it's in lots of different languages you can if you're watching this on a video, you can see some of the ones over my shoulder they've come out but it's in Chinese and German and Italian and Russian and Korean and Czech and lots of other languages too, which is all very exciting. But you can buy one in old fashioned English, that's fine with
Steven Parton 51:56
me. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time. Janae I really appreciate it is a wonderful conversation.
Jenny Kleeman 52:03
I was really, really good. I really enjoyed talking about it with you. Thank you.
Steven Parton 52:07
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