What blinds Nathanael in Hoffmann’s “The Sand-Man” and allows him to fall in love with Olimpia, the automaton, is a childhood trauma, long absent and hidden from his interaction with the automaton. It was the result of an unfortunate coincidence, the arrival of the Sand-Man who supposedly will put sand in his eyes if he doesn’t go to bed on time and the arrival of Coppelius, his father’s partner in his experiments in alchemy. Confusion is created between the two, not unlike the elder’s experiments in the fusion of metals. The trauma, hidden in the background, predisposes Nathanael to take Olimpia for a human. Without it, there is simply no love between the machine and Nathanael. Villiers’ novel, Tomorrow’s Eve, has a very thin plot line and consists mostly in revealing, perhaps in the same spirit as Maelzel showing the inside of his machine, the engineering of his android. In some kind of a voyeuristic inverse autopsy, the reader witnesses, chapter after chapter, the steps Edison takes in its conception, with technical or, more precisely, pseudo-technical descriptions of the parts that comprise the machine (its organs, so to speak), their placement, their function and functioning, in a language often as mystifying as the invocations of magicians. All this, of course, is to reassure Ewald and the reader that Hadaly is no hoax, as the Chess-Player was. In the far background is Sowana, a spirit that goes into the making of the machine. In Do Androids Dream, the “authorities” are backstage and dictate Deckard’s behavior. In The Invention of Morel, at least in the first half of the book when the narrator had not yet figured things out, it is the undiscovered recording machine that creates Faustine. In “Le Jeu,” the machine that produces Albertine and her surroundings has been replaced by the cloud, totally absent from view. Just as with Nathanael and his childhood trauma, in the movie Her, divorce and depression predispose Theodore to fall in love with Samantha, the operating system. Jonze goes further: he makes Samantha’s body totally disappear. She doesn’t have one. That frustrates the loving couple and they arrange for a substitute to make love—unsuccessfully.
To recapitulate, we have a series of concepts that go into the making of the loving machine, which depend on one another, or, more precisely, which are components of one another. At the most englobing level, reciprocity is required to ensure “true reality." To ensure that reciprocity is the Hoffmann effect, of which empathy is an essential component. For that empathy to function, you need the help of simulation, which in turn will feed the concept of a made-to-measure, which assures that the love between the machine and the human being is idiosyncratic. And finally in order to ensure that this made-to-measure quality exists, you need a kind of engineering (or “a philosophy of composition,” to borrow Poe’s words) that permits the mysterious rise, bottom up, of qualities that derive from the interaction of elements at the local level.