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Robot strippers are here

Robot strippers are offering a window into technology's gender fault lines in Las Vegas.

From a distance, the mechanical humanoids on a strip-club stage looked something like real dancers in robot drag. But close up, they were clearly mannequins with surveillance-camera heads and abstractly sculpted feminine chests, buttocks and backs, shimmying and thrusting their boxy plastic hips.

On one level, this was a classic Vegas stunt, a cheap way for the club to cash in on the presence of the world's largest tech convention. After all, the android dancers weren't really strippers, since they wore no clothes; in fact, they were barely even robots, since they were tied to their poles and only capable of a limited set of motions.

But they still provided some striking parallels to the much bigger CES tech show nearby. The robots served a racy but utilitarian function by drawing gawkers to the club, much the way provocatively clad "booth babes" lure CES visitors to wares on the convention floor. And they offered a glimpse of futurism crossed with sex, the sort of thing previously provided by the porn expo that used to overlap with the final days of CES.

"I see robotic strippers and I see half-naked women on the showroom floor promoting products," said Ashleigh Giliberto, a CES attendee who works at a public-relations firm. "It's like, aren't we worth more than that?"

Last year was a watershed moment for women speaking out against sexism and sexual abuse, much of which reverberated through the tech industry.

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO after he fostered a startup culture rife with alleged sexual misconduct. Several prominent venture capitalists likewise left their firms following accusations that they'd made unwanted sexual overtures to female entrepreneurs.

CES itself has long had a boy's club atmosphere. Only about 20 per cent of attendees this year are women; just two of the 15 keynote speakers at CES are female, as are only a quarter of the roughly 900 total speakers.

The conference took pains to note that it has no affiliation with the strip club nor its temporary robot workers. In a statement, organizers said they do not tolerate "inappropriate behaviour on our convention grounds or at official show events." Unsanctioned events, the statement said, aren't reflective of CES "or the tech industry at large."

The robots are the work of artist Giles Walker, who made them seven years ago after he found two surveillance cameras on a warehouse floor. "I wanted to do a sculpture about voyeurism and the power between the voyeur and the person who's being watched, " he said.

Walker acknowledged that bringing the robots to the strip club for an undisclosed fee has led the project astray from his initial vision. "I'm not going to pretend," he said. "They're paying my bills and giving me the chance to do other art that I do which is much less commercial and is much more underground."



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