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What can sex bots tell us about the future?

Nov 8, 2017

What can sex bots tell us about the future?


Blade Runner was widely praised for its 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque prediction of how humanlike the robots of tomorrow could become. But the part that really got people talking was the human / robot sex scene where Ryan Gosling, a remarkably convincing humanoid robot, had sex with the hologram of his entirely virtual wife synced over a human prostitute. Though we may be a couple years off from this being a reality, are sex robots going to evolve to the point where they indistinguishable from humans?

Thankfully, a Fallout-style synth scare isn’t yet upon us, where we’re unsure if our neighbors have been replaced with identical robo-copies of themselves. The most human-like sex robots available currently come from a San Marcos-based robot companion manufacturer called Realbotix (You’ve probably heard of their much written about original sex dolls, the RealDolls, which aren’t robotic but do come with an array of realistic, errm, attachments). Their $10,000 models have personality settings for conversations with you, are made of silicon to feel like the real thing, and can even recognize your face. Though they’re not quite at the Blade Runner level because they’re a little clunky and they can’t yet walk, they’re a convincing enough start.

Realbotix designed these robots to be so real because they may be as close to a human companion for some people as they can get. Unsurprisingly, that’s because a large portion of their market is for those who have trouble communicating and forming relationships with other people. We could blame modern dating culture as much as we want, but it’s also meant for those who have come from abusive or traumatic experiences or who have a disabled spouse, both male and female. Realbotix hopes to create a companion for these people, even sometimes in addition to having a relatively normal otherwise functioning family.

Despite claims from manufacturers stating sex robots are designed to help those who need it, there’s been a whole lot of backlash. Some claim sex robots objectify women and promote rape culture by advocating guilt-free routes for abuse from having completely submissive sex available whenever they please. There’s good reasoning, too – a sex robot in Barcelona was broken after being aggressively groped by the public. Since some believe these hostile behaviours will transfer over to human victims, sex robots still have a way to go in the public eye.

But here’s when all of this will get really weird – what happens when robots are as indistinguishable as Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049? This event is called “singularity,” which I actually covered pretty heavily in another article, but let’s try to break it down again. What makes us human? Is it our flesh? Our capacity for emotion? Our brainpower? Maybe even our souls?

Beside possibly our souls (because that’s for another day), the rest will soon be replicated in an event called, “singularity.” Our brains aren’t too different from a computer, albeit a surprisingly advanced one. We’re trying to make artificial intelligence as powerful as our brain, but we haven’t had a capable enough computer. Time is on our side, though, because of a tried-and- true concept called Moore’s Law where computing power actually doubles from our advancements every about two and a half years. You can blame Moore’s Law for how outdated your parents’ old iPhones are nowadays. When computing power rises to the level where it is as smart as we are, it’s not going to stop – it’s going to keep going. This makes the possibility of getting a real Ryan Gosling robot could be closer than we think, but until we get to that point, these sex robots are going to be off-putting from being just a bit too humanoid-looking, but not enough humanlike-acting, which is called the “uncanny valley.”

So then are we doomed to normalizing unintelligible computer companions? Well, was it weird when people started driving automobiles around, when people first started carrying around cell phones, or when dating apps like Tinder actually caught on? Of course it was. But like every great new piece of technology, perhaps it’s just something we will have to adapt to. Like adjusting to having Siri, we’ll have to evolve as a society to really accept robot companions in the future. Saudi Arabia recently took a stab at it by being the first country to grant citizenship to a robot. Besides, when robots become smart enough to be our companions, who will be to say they’ll even want to, anyway?