The realistic body of the Real Doll, the haptic feedback of the Real Touch, the artificial intelligence of the SlutBot, the humanoid movement abilities of Honda's ASIMO-add them all up and you could have a decent sex robot. An early sexbot wouldn't even need to be all that advanced to sell. "For guys, it doesn't have to have all the possibilities of true life, you're only looking for certain things. It doesn't have to be programmed to have tons of dialogue," says AEBN's Coffman. "I'm looking for the head rub, to be honest with you. If I could just have a robot that would rub my head all day after I got home, I'd be fine." In 2006 Henrik Christensen, chairman of the European Robotics Network, predicted humans would be having sex with robots within five years, or by 2011, which means we're just about there.
But are people ready for sexbots? After decades of fictionalized equivalents, the media is certainly ready for the real thing. When word got out in 2008 that Le Trung, a man living near Toronto, had built a lifelike female robot to help care for his aging parents, the worldwide media touted the story as "Man Builds Sex Slave Girlfriend." Trung, whom I found to be mild-mannered and polite when I interviewed him, was befuddled by the attention and feels wronged by how his creation, Aiko, which means "beloved one" in Japanese, was presented. "Tabloids need to make their money, right? The tabloids would ask, 'How long do you spend working on her?' and I said, 'Five hours a day.' Translation: I sleep with her five hours a day."
Excerpts: Sex Bombs and Burgers
Mind you, Trung didn't exactly help his cause by building sensors into Aiko's erogenous zones and programming her with the ability to simulate orgasms. When I met her, Aiko was programmed to bat my hand away if I tried to touch her breasts, but "I can reprogram her not to slap you, to like it," Trung said. Still, the robot's main purpose is to care and entertain. She can read medicine labels, announce the weather after checking it with her built-in wireless internet connection and even sing songs in Japanese. Impressive as she is though, especially considering she was constructed by one person with a budget of about $20,000, Aiko is quite frail. She can't walk or support her weight and her hands are made of cardboard stuffed into a pair of gloves. She could hardly have sex even if her creator wanted her to.
New Jersey software engineer Douglas Hines has taken it one step further with his True Companion [NSFW] a robot that can talk and think and is, er, anatomically functional. Hines thinks he's put most of the pieces together, save for the ability to walk (like Aiko), and so he plans to start selling his creation in 2010 at a price comparable to the Real Doll. His robot, which he's calling "Roxy," will be more advanced than previous attempts because it can adopt different emotional states and personalities. "The sex side is easy, but nobody's integrated these pools of technology," Hines says. "Roxy takes the inputs she's given and decides what emotional states they're associated with. If there are enough inputs given to justify a transition to that state, then she transitions. So, for example, if she's sleeping and hears that you're waking up and trying to interact with her, she'll make that transition if she has enough input over enough time to the sleepy state, and then continue on from there."
Whether the True Companion proves to be a hit or not, most people will still consider sex with robots to be the same as sex with dolls-either odd, creepy or pathetic. But sexual psychologists argue that this attitude is bound to change. Consider that only sixty years ago, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and masturbation were all generally considered wrong and immoral. Now, early into the new millennium, all three are more or less accepted. Even the staunchest conservative American states are allowing gay marriage, no one bats an eye when an unmarried couple moves in together, and vibrator sales are going through the roof. Even more recently, online dating was viewed with considerable disdain, as a refuge for the desperate or socially maladjusted, but no one speaks ill of it any more because, well, everybody is doing it.
In his 2007 book Love + Sex with Robots, British artificial intelligence researcher David Levy argues that having sex with and even marrying robots will be commonplace by 2050, for both men and women. Others, including inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil, believe it will be even earlier, perhaps by 2029. Levy says we will fall in love with our robots for the same reasons we fall in love with other humans, our pets or even inanimate objects like cars or computers. Like Star Trek's Commander Data, they can be programmed to be just as intelligent, funny, romantic and caring as any human. Levy argues that robots will be even better sex partners than humans because they can be programmed with all the sexual information in the world. Imagine an encyclopedic knowledge of the Kama Sutra!
Robots could also provide "spice" to a relationship by learning their mate's behaviour and varying their programming accordingly, perhaps by changing their voice, personality or even appearance. And they'll be able to fulfill sexual fantasies in ways that real people cannot. As one example, many couples jokingly grant each other a "get-out-of-jail-free" card, a permission to cheat on their partner with the celebrity of their choice should the unlikely opportunity ever present itself. While a man in such an arrangement may never get to have sex with the real Angelina Jolie, he certainly could with a reasonable facsimile. That may seem far-fetched, but Abyss is already making Real Dolls designed in the likenesses of real porn stars working for adult company Wicked Pictures. Licensing one's image to sex robot makers is a potentially huge source of revenue for celebrities and porn stars alike.
When sex robots do arrive and attitudes toward them change, one thing is definite: they will sell. If the historical market for prostitution and pornography is any indication, robots may very well end up being the best thing to happen to sex since the discovery of the orgasm. Some even suggest that the old fear about robots, that they will steal jobs from humans, will come true-in prostitution. "When sexual robots are available in large numbers, a cold wind is likely to blow through the profession, causing serious unemployment," says Levy.
Somehow, I don't see Toyota going anywhere near this.
Teenagers may also be on the endangered list, as least as far as employment is concerned. The boring, repetitive and unskilled jobs that are the hallmarks of many people's adolescence are ripe picking for robots, too. R. Craig Coulter knows this, which is why he's helping fast-food companies adopt robotic labour.
From Sex, Bombs and Burgers by Peter Nowak. Copyright Peter Nowak, 2010. Reprinted with permission of Penguin Group (Canada)