I Smell Sex and Robots
What happens when Robotics and Human Sexual Desire Collide?
The idea of sex with life-like robots is not new. Popular culture has brought us The Stepford Wives, Pris Stratton from Blade Runner, the Fembots in Austin Powers, and most recently the brothels of Westworld. These robots are generally portrayed in idealised female forms and designed to be either subservient to male sexual desires, or use these desires against men as a type of robotic femme fatale. There are instances such as Gigolo Joe in A.I. where male robots are designed for female pleasure, but by-and-large these portrayals are done with a hetero-male audience in mind.
In the real-world we have neither the robotic or artificial-intelligence (AI) technology capable to brining a Gigolo Joe or Jane into reality. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying, and as technology exponentially advances, we also edge closer to a robotic lover that can switched off and stored in the cupboard when your Mum visits.
The person considered to be at the forefront of this Matt McMullen whose company Abyss Creations (definitely NSFW) started out using moulding techniques to make ‘love dolls’ (which is the preferred terms over sex dolls) with fully articulate skeletons. McMullen has taken these dolls beyond the realm of crude and inflatable, to being life-like and anatomically correct handmade creations that sell for upwards of US$5000.
But this is only the beginning of McMullen’s work. In an interview with the New York Times McMullen talks about his desire combine his dolls with robotics and AI technology to “arouse someone on an emotional and physical level”. From a robotics perspective, this means everything from head movements and facial expressions, to hips that gyrate at just the right time. As for the AI, this means making you believe that the doll is enjoying what you’re doing to it, and that you’re actually doing it with an emotional being.
However, the problem that stands before us is called the Uncanny Valley. This is a theory that states that as robots appear more human, real humans will feel more positive and emphatic toward them, but only until a point. And when this point hit, empathy turns to disgust and revulsion. In short, if a robot looks very real, but not entirely real, it causes humans to reject them.
But where does this leave us humans with our basic carnal desires and the potential for the robots of the future to fulfil them at our beck and call? While McMullen’s creations may seems a long way from what we’ve seen on our screens, at the pace which technology has advanced, this may be closer than we think.
Anecdotally, it’s difficult to get people to openly talk about the idea of sex with robots. People seem to fall into one of two categories; the hyper-dismissive who see it as something that will only be the realm of perverts and the desperate; or the hyper-sexualised who romanticise consequence and emotion free non-stop orgies with robots that look and act exactly like humans. Interestingly, when you see and read interviews with McMullen, he seems to see his business model as being neither of these things.
And personally I agree with McMullen. On one hand, while perusing McMullen’s and some of his competitor’s websites (such as Sinthetics or Private Island Beauties - both are also very NSFW) it’s difficult to see my current self going down that path. I find the pictures of the dolls posing sexually as awkward, and even unsettling. You can tell that they’re inanimate, and they look sterile and lifeless. Perhaps for me, these dolls have already hit the Uncanny Valley.
But on the other hand, what if these dolls could be put to life, so to speak? What if they could be given realistic movements and personalities? What if they could be programmed to seek you out with the intention of arousing you? Could they offer comfort for those unable to form emotional and physical human relationships? What will this mean for the sex industry? Will we see Westworld type brothels that disrupt the sex industry in the same way Uber disrupted the taxi industry? With the journey that porn has taken since the invention of the Web, it’s not difficult to see sex robots taking a similar space - present, just beneath the surface of society, and accessible whenever you desire it.
But while this type of technology is still certainly futuristic, it’s also arguably inevitable. Robotics and IA are now at the coalface of aspired technological advancement. These are type of advancements that could improve everything from medicine, to manufacturing, to domestic chores. But as these advancements take place, you can be sure that appropriating them for sex won’t be far behind.