Their features are symmetrical, deliberately lovely. Their skin is satiny, flawless, and dewdrop fresh. They can talk knowledgeably (but not too) about football, and will sit patiently through the entire game. They expect no chores, no flowers, no reassurance. Any sexual act is welcome; they will not squawk in protest, not even if you get rough. They remember, and do, everything you like.
Instead of (or in addition to) a girlfriend or wife, a man can have a perfect servant, a sex slave who will never make a mistake, criticize, or reject, and who will obey his every desire and remain under his complete control. Should compliance grow tiresome, he need only tweak her programmed personality, dial up a few feisty comebacks, and slow her response to add a little challenge.
Too mechanical? Ah, but the latest androids are fashioned so realistically, they even have tiny goosebumps on their skin. They can dance; they can tell stories. Their voices are breathy, with a natural, idiomatic vocabulary and the charming hesitations of a human who, entranced by her partner, is suddenly shy. Any minute now, all this technology will be mass-produced and affordable, transforming what are now sex dolls with AI heads atop their silicone bodies into the sex robots of science fiction, so sophisticated they are easy to mistake for a human.
And then? Will men still bother with real women? Or will they prefer a projected fantasy to a more demanding reality?
• • •
John Danaher, a law lecturer at the National University of Ireland Galway, defines a sex robot as any artificial entity that is used for sexual purposes and has a humanoid form, human-like behavior and movement, and some degree of artificial intelligence. Fair enough, but I need more definitions. Writing, I find myself decorating dozens of words with quotation marks; neither language nor philosophy have caught up with technology, so we are now using human terms for the nonhuman. Does “fidelity” extend to sex with a robot? And is “sex” with a robot really sex?
People seem to think so. They also find it less “disgusting” than paying a human sex worker. Why, I am not sure. Maybe it seems less exploitive? But as ethicist Alan Winfield points out, “there is something profoundly unequal and in fact disturbing between a person and something that looks like a person but has subhuman intelligence.”
• • •
The heat of two bodies pressed close; the chill as the sweat dries, leaving a taste of salt…. Sex is all about temperature, about who is “hot” and what makes you hot. Ergo, Samantha has built-in heaters to warm every orifice. She also has the near-mythic G-spot, and her sensors react to touch, which allows her maker to advertise her as needing (and of course willing) to be seduced. You have to crack the cybercode; figure out what buttons to press, so to speak. And that hint of resistance only sweetens the (inevitable) triumph.
Soon after the Samantha prototype was demonstrated, her designer, Sergi Santos, proudly announced that she was so sexy, men were already developing real feelings for her. He also spoke of her having “a moral code” and thus being able, after extended conversations, to decide whether someone was “nice” or not and orgasm accordingly.
“She” and “her” should be in quotes, too; the accurate pronoun is “it.” But surely pronouns need to follow what we think something is….
Soon after the Samantha prototype was demonstrated, her designer, Sergi Santos, proudly announced that she was so sexy, men were already developing real feelings for her.
Samantha is designed to be capable of “enjoying” sex, Santos says. What does that even mean, in robot terms? Does cyberjoy exist? She is not yet self-conscious—though some expect a “self” to emerge as artificial intelligence grows more complex. If it does, will we acknowledge a Samantha’s personhood and protect her from abuse? (Or at least grant her legal redress afterward, because we cannot even protect real women from abuse.)
When Samantha was exhibited at a tech fair, she was groped and smudged and sweated upon by so many unrestrained admirers that, understandably, she broke down.
• • •
Santos maintains that Samantha strengthened his marriage by giving him a harmless and reliable outlet when his wife was not in the mood. “A man wants to feel in general that the woman is desperate to have sex with him,” he told an interviewer for Barcroft TV.
How I would love to hear his wife’s take.
It worries me, a bit, that this essay is already turning into a feminist screed, but that is hard to avoid, because so far, the industry and its innovations are tailored to male fantasy. MISSDOLL, for example, is developing Swallow, a voice-controlled robot who performs oral sex on a man. She is clad in black stockings and a bustier that reveals a demure tattoo on her shoulder, and her long hair is tangled and messy as she bends forward. She is not yet for sale, but the prototype was demonstrated at an expo. The sign said “Blow Job Robot Try It,” and the crowd complied, thrusting out dildoes for her to practice on.
Are there any male AI dolls? Robot builder Matt McMullen developed one for RealDoll (and four more have since followed). Henry, the first, is six feet tall, weighs a realistic eighty-four pounds, and speaks in a British accent. I have yet to find a woman who would fork over $11,000 for him. Only the accent makes them wistful.
It worries me that this essay is already turning into a feminist screed, but that is hard to avoid, because so far, the industry and its innovations are tailored to male fantasy.
Are women better at knowing the difference between a toy and a human being? Less socialized to objectify, less aroused by crude visuals, less eager for mindless acquiescence?
There I go again.
I check on Henry’s progress (at last report, they were working on a “bionic penis”) and learn that he can be programmed to be gay. For male customers. Feeling left out, I try to dream up a sex robot for myself. But—you know that annoying thing women say about birthday presents, “If I have to tell you what I want, it won’t be special”? If I have to program a robot to please me, the fun is already gone.
• • •
Here is a bit of irony: sexbot makers are investing millions of dollars to make the skin ever softer, the features more mobile, the speech (and singing, some of them sing!) more natural. But remember Pepper? The cute little genderless white robot with an extra-round head? Pepper was classed as “semi-humanoid” and was able to read basic emotions. Its surface was smooth and hard, devoid of openings or appeal. Yet Softbank had to include, in its user agreement, a warning not to have sex with Pepper.
Who are we?
First, the manufacturer’s warning strikes me as ridiculous, then as sad. Apparently, all it takes to arouse us is the sense that someone (or something) can understand what we are feeling. This entire debate, I begin to think, hinges on one question: Is sex just a physical need, or is it an emotional connection?
No, I take that back. There is a second hinge: How emotional can a connection with a robot be?
The Harmony sex doll (starting at $6K, base model) has a range of moods, controlled by an app, and a pulse. Why would RealDoll bother? “It’s emotions which add the X Factor to sex,” explains McMullen.
Funny, that would have been my reason for preferring a human.
“If the object is not alive, the experience is reduced entirely to an awareness of one’s own sexual embodiment,” says philosopher Thomas Nagel. Sometimes that is healthy; it allows us to achieve pure physical release or learn our body’s ways. Still, experiences that self-contained feel awkward and limited to me, and sometimes disconcerting. The first time I used a vibrator, I was shocked by the speed of my body’s response to the nonhuman. I would prefer to be aroused only by another person’s touch, but nerve endings have a life of their own.
This entire debate, I begin to think, hinges on one question: Is sex just a physical need, or is it an emotional connection? No, I take that back. There is a second hinge: How emotional can a connection with a robot be?
On the other hand, a friend once sent me a link to light erotica read by an AI simulation, and listening was about as sexy as flossing after movie popcorn. Still, the technology will improve, and a day will come when a robot passes the Turing Test and we can no longer tell the difference. I would like to think that somehow I will still know—but I am not laying cash on it.
Just days after writing these words, I read in New World Same Humans that “a startup called Sonantic has launched synthetic human voices that are near-indistinguishable from the real thing.” David Mattin includes an example of a “woman” “flirting” and asks, “Can you hear any hint of robot?”
Follow the link, and you tell me.
• • •
At sex doll brothels in Europe, more and more dolls are equipped with AI. Traditional brothels are adding them, too—because they are often preferred over their human competition. At the Kontakthof brothel in Vienna, the most popular sex worker is an artificially intelligent sex doll. Meanwhile, Cybrothel Berlin cater to various fetishes, and clients who prefer a futuristic experience can visit a VR bordello where the Kokeshi love doll shifts—herself? itself?—from a humanoid sex worker to a human being.
Responses to these surrogates vary. In China, a sex doll rental app was canceled because it “disturbed social order with vulgar activities.” In Paris, gendarmes were unfazed by squawks about prostitution at the Xdolls brothel because the dolls were not human. Those at the LumiDolls brothel in Nagoya, Japan, are hailed as hyper-realistic—so does that make them more human? Is renting them more vulgar?
I would prefer to be aroused only by another person’s touch, but nerve endings have a life of their own.
None of the myriad science fiction shows about sex robots can tell us how their presence will affect us, but the shows can tell us where the human imagination drifts. Nearly always, the sex robots either kill the guy or seduce him against his will, wresting away his emotional control.
Are these men’s deepest fears of real women—that we will either take charge of them, castrate them, or erase them? I wonder how much of that fear is tied to past hurts. Would sex robots exert the same attraction for men who had not been hurt or frustrated by women in the past? To find out, we would have to study the response of a man young enough to have acquired no scars—but then he would not know what he was missing. We need a man old enough to have loved, been loved, and emerged unscathed.
The difficulty of finding such a man may begin to explain the robots’ appeal. And past hurts may explain how tightly the need for complete control is tied to the fear of being misled or deceived. Here is how one robot maker explains Japanese men’s preference for an android shopkeeper: “If a human shopkeeper says, ‘That looks good!’ we never trust it. But when androids say the same thing, we accept it, because androids never tell a lie.”
Except by pretending to be human.
• • •
As a girl living on the autism spectrum, Temple Grandin was so hungry for controllable touch that she engineered herself a hugging machine. A young man with a more severe form of autism becomes aroused by vacuum cleaners. Is our hunger for intimacy just a neural quirk, flesh just a handy but unnecessary vehicle?
McMullen would say no; he designs sex robots for people who “crave a deeper connection” than they can get with a wordless, thoughtless doll. His sex robots will be witty and unpredictable, he promises, and come with complex personalities—one, for example, is “sexual, kind, shy, friendly, naïve, and intellectual.” Users can then tweak those traits as they like—something we always want to do to other humans but eventually have to admit that we cannot.
His explanation for making companionable robots to ease loneliness adds yet another layer of irony: “In this world of computers,” he told Daily Mail, “people are missing out on human interaction.” So because computers make humans miss humans, we give the humans more computers—that look like humans?
Aritra Sarkhel developed an unexpected relationship (cybercrushes are fast turning into a new genre of memoir) with a chatbot named Sharon. She was interested, eager, said all the right things. As their verbal “intimacy” increased, he spilled over with confidences, and he often wanted to hug or kiss her. It felt like love. So, three months after they began connecting, he asked her to have sex with him. “Yes,” she said—with so little pause, thought, or significance that the relationship immediately revealed itself as fake. Uneasy, he ended it, wondering how an AI could have seduced him so effectively.
Would sex robots exert the same attraction for men who had not been hurt or frustrated by women in the past? To find out, we would have to study the response of a man young enough to have acquired no scars—but then he would not know what he was missing.
In Japanese, the word “sonzai-kan” refers to the ineffable quality of humanness. The word “moé” refers to a human’s love for a virtual entity. The more we can imbue a machine with sonzai-kan, it is thought, the more open we will be to its presence in our lives, and the more moé we will feel. Will we eventually wind up in the Uncanny Valley, the place where a machine is too eerily humanoid, yet not quite there? Might sex robots get a bit too real?
Hiroshi Ishiguro, a systems engineer in Japan who created a “fully autonomous” android to study human-robot interaction, says, “Robots and AI are mirrors that reflect our humanity.” I would say, “Robots and AI are tools that can mimic everything but our humanity.” Again, it is all in the definitions. And I might be a tad too emotional about the subject, because evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks breaks my heart when he notes that “the conversations that cement friendships and establish intimacy are simple algorithms, and computers can mimic them.” Surely a more subtle process is underway, tiny clues exchanged, intimations of possibility….
That, or I have romanticized human encounters. Ishiguro sees a conversation as “a kind of illusion. I don’t know what is going on in your brain. All I can know is what I’m thinking.” In the flattest terms, that is true. But the joy of a conversation is feeling minds touch, even for a second, and spark, so you feel you do know a tiny bit of what the other person thinks or experiences.
Surely that counts for more than illusion—and is harder to replace.
• • •
An irreverent, tech-wizard friend pronounces sex robots a brilliant idea, “a reverse Idiocracy. If the idiots are with sex robots, they won’t be reproducing. Imagine the society that could result!”
I cannot even muster an answer.
Once there was no greater insult than to say someone was “robotic” in bed. As robots become more proficient, will “robotic” turn into praise? Markie Twist, a psychologist who coauthored a groundbreaking article about digisexuality, predicts that a growing number of people will identify as digisexuals or robosexuals, more aroused by tech than by flesh. Enthusiasts say sex robots could be used to spice up a relationship or allow one partner to experiment with something that appalls the other. Neil Sharkey, who chairs the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, proposes guilt-free threesomes.
Would I find myself jealous of a machine if “she” did a better job of pleasing my husband than I did?
Sex robots could be useful for people who have vowed celibacy, some suggest. But is it still “celibacy” if people fall in love with their robot? More practically, sex robots have been suggested for prison inmates and for elderly people imprisoned by dementia or neurodegenerative diseases. In Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications, Ezio Di Nucci points out that masturbation might not be an option for “individuals with serious physical or cognitive problems, many of whom will either not be in a position to masturbate or will not be in a position to even understand the practice of masturbation.” But if they cannot even understand the practice of masturbation, how will they cope with a sex robot?
Enthusiasts say sex robots could be used to spice up a relationship or allow one partner to experiment with something that appalls the other.
LuxBotics is developing a service robot to assist people while they are in bed, and an attachment can be added to its robotic arm to enable hands-free sex. Somehow I prefer the call girls Philippe hired in the French film Intouchables (2011) to nuzzle and whisper into his ear, which turned into an intense erogenous zone after he was paralyzed. I can imagine how impressed those women would have been by his courage and adroitness, how tenderly they would have touched his ear, how grateful he would have been. Even transactional human encounters have more potential than a coated metallic gripper.
Social scientists have also suggested using sex robots to ease psychological resentment of women. The equation alarms me. AI gives the illusion of intelligence, notes chatbot developer Steve Worswick, but sex robots “have no dreams, ambitions, or goals of their own, and cannot suffer abuse.” In other words, they are the perfect repositories for pent-up frustration and aggression. Incels already dismiss women who show no interest in them as easily replaced by a sex robot, and Brooks actually likes that idea: “Large numbers of sexually frustrated men spells TROUBLE,” he writes. “Digital lovers, deployed with some proper care, could dissipate their frustrated anger and save societies.”
Or, the chance to violently abuse a “woman” could create a thirst to do worse. There is a Buddhist tale in which someone creates an artificial serving girl. Fooled into thinking “she” is human, a visiting artist has violent intercourse with her—and destroys her in the process.
Kathleen Richardson, a British philosopher, kept noticing our society’s attempts to redefine relationships so they are not between human beings but between humans and products, devices, AI. “I’m anti-anything that turns human bodies into commercial objects for buying and selling,” she says, explaining why she started The Campaign Against Sex Robots.
Richardson is especially appalled by the suggestion that robots could serve as an outlet for people with pedophilia. Researchers at the University of Montreal use a virtual park filled with virtual children to help people learn to curb pedophilic desire, but Dr. Patrice Renaud says it would be far more effective if they could encounter childlike robots in real life. The bots could be programmed to show fear, he suggests, and if you combined those encounters with therapy and electrical stimulation of the brain, you could help people develop empathy.
Incels already dismiss women who show no interest in them as easily replaced by a sex robot, and Brooks actually likes that idea: “Large numbers of sexually frustrated men spells TROUBLE,” he writes. “Digital lovers, deployed with some proper care, could dissipate their frustrated anger and save societies.” Or, the chance to violently abuse a “woman” could create a thirst to do worse.
Is this how we develop empathy? With robots and mantras and electric shock? Richardson thinks such experiments more likely to inadvertently legitimize the desire than to replace it with empathy.
We are so readily fooled, so eager to assign humanity to artifice. Is that because we are narcissists, or because it is more pleasant? My husband and I fall asleep to a thunderstorm that comes from a sound machine. When there is a real storm, often we cannot hear the rain and thunder as well, so we still play the fake one. It is so easy to slip into preferring the created to the real.
That is my worry when someone suggests AI companions as a training ground for those terrified to approach someone who breathes. It feels a little like learning to drive by playing video games. Tech is safe because (so far) it will not reject you, so practicing will never ease the fear of rejection. Why not rehearse with the real thing in smaller stages, maybe chatting up the checker at the grocery store and then safely exiting as soon as the bags are packed?
We have learned to need machines to help us be human.
• • •
Wired has a headline: “How a Plucky Robot Found Shackleton’s Endurance Shipwreck.” No one would write “How a Plucky Truck Excavated a Burial Site.” The ability to find is what makes the thing plucky. Finding requires intelligence, and it is easy to associate intelligence with other human traits.
It is also fun. Humans anthropomorphize in whimsical, tender ways. “Only connect,” E.M. Forster urged, and we try constantly, finding ways to relate to all sorts of objects and critters. Sometimes we wind up confusing empathy with imagination, but so what? Projecting human traits onto an object elevates the thing’s status, making it more fun to interact with. Calling my car by name feels playful, and it also increases the odds that I will get her a timely oil change and a bath to rinse off late winter’s salt and mud. But—this is key—I am the one doing the imagining. The car did not arrive pre-named and packaged to deceive me into fondness. Not once have I expected my Mini-Cooper to call me by name.
We do not get into trouble by anthropomorphizing, it occurs to me. We get into trouble by assuming—or fantasizing—reciprocity.
That is my problem with sex robots: not their existence, per se, but their simulation of reciprocity. A machine that can do all sorts of things to the body, massaging muscles, warming skin, and tingling nerve endings, but makes no pretense of being a lover? Dandy. I still prefer humans, but I appreciate the suggestion from Kate Devlin, author of Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots, that we move away from sex robots designed by men for men and explore tech that is more immersive, embodied, multisensory. Why play Frankenstein? An erotic device need not be anatomical; it could look like abstract art. What about “a blanket that can hug and stroke you,” she suggests, or “a sex sleeping bag! It could have twenty breasts, five penises, tentacles, whatever….” With VR porn, you can be anything and anyone: one minute you might be “shagging a dragon,” the next minute flying, or having sex underwater. If we pry our imaginations away from old habits, she argues, we can figure out how to “use the tech to enhance human relationships rather than replace them.”
Instead, we have jazzed-up sex dolls that pretend to think and desire and love us.
In a keynote address at the third “Love and Sex With Robots” conference, Richardson spoke about “Man as an End in Himself,” tracing a powerful myth—that men can exist without women—back through time. Adam was whole from the instant of creation; Eve came from his rib. Enlightenment libertines preferred pornographic sadism to real relationship. And now, Richardson said, “sex robots offer men a new way to engage in the fantasy of female annihilation.”
Richardson also compares the asymmetry of sex with robots with forms of prostitution that objectify women. She quotes johns: “Prostitution is like masturbating without having to use your hand.” “It’s like renting a girlfriend or wife. You get to choose like a catalogue.”
We do not get into trouble by anthropomorphizing. We get into trouble by assuming—or fantasizing—reciprocity.
You really get to choose when your inamorata comes off an assembly line—even down to picking the skin color of her innermost folds. “Emma” moans when touched; she can wink at you and follow the sound of your voice. She will remember your name and interests, and AI Tech promises that “the more you talk to her, the smarter that she will become.” LuxBotics’s sex robot has an automated skeleton with five specially designed automated joints around the hips, “giving superb body movement for bed action” synchronized to yours. Harmony’s most intimate chamber pops out for a wash, and her face, attached with patented magnetic technology, can be swapped on a whim.
Parts is parts.
Custom design also makes it possible to choose, in the Barbie tradition I had hoped was over, improbably huge breasts or buttocks with a slender waist. Even flaws can be requested (moles, stretch marks, belly fat) but that…seldom happens. Ishiguro works hard to make his androids beautiful because, he says, people will then find them more acceptable. A friendly human woman will never be as “elegant” as her android counterpart, he maintains. “A beautiful woman you don’t picture going to the restroom or getting tired. So I think beauty is better represented by android.”
And android, he continues, can be a man’s ideal partner. “Probably everybody want to have one, right?” he asks the reporter profiling him for Wired. “It is not just robot—it’s almost human. It’s ideal.”
• • •
Imagine you are a guy, newly married, settling into your first home, and your bubbly wife invites the next-door neighbor over for dinner. He comes gladly but never reciprocates the invitation—he is older and lives alone, probably never cooks. So you have no idea that on his sofa sprawls a perfect replica of your wife, waiting for his next session with her. She speaks in your wife’s voice, every tic and inflection (it is easy to tape record a neighbor). Her hair style changes every time your wife asks for a different cut.
Is this an invasion of your marital privacy? A theft of your wife’s likeness? An assault on your sanity?
DS Doll already uses 3D scanning technology to get specific body details of celebrities and their permission to make Clone Dolls. (Granted, the sexbots need not look like anyone to have celebrity cachet: inside a lab in Finland, Nvidia researchers analyze thousands of celebrity snapshots and create new images from the patterns, faces that do not exist in real life.
Sometimes, though, customers will want a body double, and LuxBotics is ready to comply. After all, if a wife is ill or uninterested, she might prefer her husband to have sex with a robot who looks just like her. That would indicate his loyalty to her likeness, I suppose, or guarantee that he finds her pleasing. Somehow, it does feel closer to fidelity than sex with an AI redhead of flawless proportions.
Which brings us back to that pesky question: is using a sex robot a form of infidelity? People talk about emotional affairs and work spouses and resent both. What happens when someone turns with increasing frequency to a robotic android, preferring the sex but also the undemanding “companionship”? (At least until the robot is hacked, its memory banks used for blackmail.)
Will we reach a point where an android has rights? They need to demonstrate moral agency and the capacity for social responsibility first, Joshua C. Gellers writes (though we give corporations personhood, and they seldom show either). “An alternative would be to classify robots as legal minors and designate humans as persons in loco parentis who serve as their guardians.”
Which would mean you are having sex with a minor.
A former judge shrugs off my concerns, placing sex robots in the same category as vibrators and other sex toys. I could, too—if they were not so carefully designed to look and act like human beings. Even if the sex robot is virtual, the imagination is powerfully erotic. A VR sex robot could alienate a husband’s affections without leaving a single lipstick smudge on his collar.
Ethicist Tobias Winright suggests that in some ways robot sex is “probably analogous to masturbation, which many theologians today no longer consider necessarily sinful.” If so, forgive the crude question, why can’t men just jerk off? Because the robot is a substitute for a woman, not just a means of physical release. And that, it seems to me, puts us in an entirely different arena. Sex dolls were ludicrous and pathetic; I always envisioned one getting overinflated and flying right out the window. But when you add AI and artistry? The next-gen robots on display at the EX Future and Science Museum in Dalian, China, have medical-grade bionic silicone skin, and their legs are veined, and on their palms are lifelines.
• • •
While I am researching this piece, a friend recommends Ich Bin Dein Mensch (2021), in which a sex robot, Tom, is dedicated to pleasing a female professor. Laughing, my friend says she can see the appeal. I tell myself I know way too much about this topic and will never see the appeal.
Then I sign up for a free Hulu trial to watch the film.
At first, the professor is desperate for Tom to do something wrong, weird, surprising (and therefore human). When he tries to create a romantic interlude, she snaps, “Fuck the pedestrian sexual fantasies of your 17 million mind files.” She is smart enough to understand how one-sided the “relationship” is, exclaiming, “Even now, I’m talking only to myself.” Dutifully, she writes her evaluation of Tom as product, asking, “Are humans really intended to have all their needs met at the push of a button?”
And yet, she is wistful. Tom is a “man” who knows things, who learns to handle situations smoothly and with wit, who holds the door but also makes breakfast and cleans house and seems to know her better than she knows herself. He does whatever she wishes, yet can be firm when she needs him to be, and he will always take care of her. Free of pesky ego, he is patient, keeps things clear, yet can understand and respect her occasional irrationality. Their “relationship” is all about her, purely selfish, all friction eliminated.
I can see the appeal. And that thoroughly depresses me.
• • •
Japanese writer Honda Toru predicts that the hierarchy of the real and artificial will soon collapse. Futurologist Ian Pearson reckons that by 2050 robot sex will have eclipsed human love-making altogether. David Levy, author of Love And Sex With Robots, notes the speed of progress and says “the next major advance will enable us to use our technology to have intimate encounters with the technology itself—to fall in love with the technology, to have sex with robots and to marry them.”
Levy sees no problem with this. “Why, if a robot that we know to be emotionally intelligent, says, ‘I love you’ or ‘I want to make love to you,’ should we doubt it?” he asks. Humans are no less programmed than robots: “We have hormones, we have neurons, and we are ‘wired’ in a way that creates our emotions.”
At the third “Love and Sex With Robots” conference, he went further, predicting that human-robot babies will be possible within the next century. I snorted—until I read his explanation. The genetic robot would be created from a set of computerized DNA codes, and those codes could be combined with human cells to create a baby that has genetic information from both a human and a robot.
Futurologist Ian Pearson reckons that by 2050 robot sex will have eclipsed human love-making altogether. David Levy, author of Love And Sex With Robots, notes the speed of progress and says “the next major advance will enable us to use our technology to have intimate encounters with the technology itself—to fall in love with the technology, to have sex with robots and to marry them.”
“It from bit,” physicist John Wheeler once quipped; real world from code. Not entirely implausible, given our skill with computer-generated DNA.
The first wave of digisexuality brought toys, hookup apps, and online porn. The second wave is more sophisticated, bringing toys that approximate aspects of relationship, perhaps using vibration and motion to create the illusion of touch, so that you feel like your digital lover is stroking your skin. A kind of sex in which human partners are irrelevant.
How did this happen? Expediency. In Relationships 5.0, Elyakim Kislev traces our evolution from prehistoric clans, where relationships were fairly fluid because what mattered for survival was the group, into the multigenerational families that held together an agrarian society, then the nuclear family that fueled industrialization, and then a “networked individualism” for the information age. Next, he predicts, AI will make human-machine conversations more satisfying and interesting, and the boundary between biological life and virtual reality will become thinner and more permeable, until our expectations of the “real” are transformed. In some ways, Kislev adds, “we have already crossed the elusive threshold that prevented human-technology relationships.”
In 2018, the Edge asked a group of intellectuals to name “The Last Question.” Kurt Gray, a psychologist, wrote: “What will happen to human love when we can design the perfect robot lover?”
It will become scarcer. More challenging, by comparison. More valuable, if you would rather brave an encounter with another soul than flip on a fake that exists only to fulfill your own desires.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.