Sex and love with robots: no longer science fiction

Sex and love with robots: no longer science fiction
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In 1927, Fritz Lang, in his futuristic film Metropolis, probably for the first time in the history of cinema, gave the role of femme fatale to a robot: Maschinenmensch, a robot replica of Maria, the film’s leading lady. The human side of robot Maria is so perfect that, managing to substitute the original without any trouble, she incites a worker uprising against the bosses.

Almost a century since Metropolis, the dizzying pace of technological advances forces us to constantly rethink where the line is drawn separating fiction from reality. Today, robot Maria is ready to take the leap over into the real world. We are looking at the production of a new type of robot with a human appearance, life-sized and with a certain kind of brain.

There is no shortage of futurologists who maintain that, within a matter of decades, machines could replace humans in a still undetermined number of relationships, such as care companionship, friendship or sexual relations (which are currently confined to two or more beings from our own species).

A robot as a romantic partner?

The possibility of acquiring intelligent robots as companions is, in principle, set to become a reality this very year. Several companies from the sex technology sector, in various parts of the world, are working on the launch, which they say is ‘imminent’, of new life-like sex dolls equipped with artificial intelligence, capable of discussing literature, selecting romantic music to create the right ambiance, or even telling a joke, although, in line with demand, they primarily react to all forms of sexual urges.

The current leader in the hyper-realistic sex doll sector is the RealDoll by Abyss Creations. This US company with 20 years of experience, based in San Marcos, California, is working to equip its prototype, Harmony, with artificial intelligence. The goal of its inventor, Matt McMullen, is for his robots to interact with users as naturally as possible, learning, amongst other things, details about their lives.

But McMullen is not the only one. The robot women designed in Catalonia, Spain by Sergi Santos, a nanotechnology and computer engineering expert, can interact in family or romantic mode, although (like Harmony) they are chiefly designed to have sexual relations, and to feel an orgasm. In this case, the robots could serve as a tool for realising all types of fantasies.

The male versions of these robots, which Santos is also planning to release, are further behind in the development stage, both because the demand for them is lower and owing to the weight factor: the materials currently used to produce them are “too heavy” for a female public.

Is the development of sex robots a mere anecdote? Not for the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR), based in the Netherlands. In a recent publication, it warns of the implications of the production and use of robots made to look like children. “We need clarification on policies on child sex robots at the international level sooner rather than later, about whether they should be sold legally and what sort of ownership and use should be permissible,” insist the report’s authors.

Nor is it considered a trivial matter at Goldsmiths, University of London, which is to host the Third International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots.

The academic and industrial world will come together at this event to debate the philosophical and ethical issues, the risks and opportunities, as well as the gender implications (most of the supply and demand is focussed on dolls, perpetuating male ideas about sexuality), or the affective potential of robot companions.

David Levy, one of the most mediatised voices on artificial intelligence, is one of the organisers of the congress. According to this expert’s forecasts, the first marriages between humans and robots are likely to take place around 2050 in the US state of Massachusetts (the state that spearheaded the legalisation of same sex marriages in the United States).

Although this may seem deliberately provocative, let’s put things in context: Levy started out as a chess master. He went on to become involved in developing the generation of computers capable of playing chess and has been involved in the development of artificial intelligence for decades. In 1968, Levy bet that no artificial brain would be capable of beating him at chess for the next 10 years.

In 1978, he renewed his challenge for another five years, after which he withdrew his bet. He could see how the future of the machines was moving into the present. Levy is now simply warning of what he can see on the horizon. The prospect of intelligent robots forming part of our lives is becoming a present-day reality – as we speak.

 

Ava – one of the Samantha prototype dolls, equipped with basic artificial intelligence – wrapped in plastic and ready to be dispatched to a future customer.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The Samantha sex robot has been engineered in Spain by Sergi Santos, who is currently racing with other companies in the sector to be the first to market a sex doll equipped with artificial intelligence. The first models of this robot, with a Spanish hallmark, will reach the market in the coming months, with a price in the range of €3,000 to €4,000 (around US$3,400 to US$4,550).

 

Portrait of Ava, one of the robots created by Santos.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The customers can personalise the type of robot they buy, selecting details such as its height, chest measurements, hair type and colour or skin colour. There are also different types of faces. Ava is one of Santos’s most advanced models and its name is taken from the 2015 science fiction film Ex Machina, in which an attractive prototype robot-woman plays the role of femme fatale who seduces and kills her examiner.

 

Human-robot interaction is here.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The sex dolls Santos works with are made from a material, thermoplastic elastomer, that tries to emulate, as much as possible, the feel of human skin. Futurist fiction has fantasised about relationships between humans and machines for decades, and some of these futuristic scripts could become reality in the coming decades.

 

The Samantha doll’s hands and legs after a demonstration of its capacity to perform sexual functions.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The dolls designed by Santos have sensors integrated throughout the body to make them sense and react to touch. The designer maintains that, in the same way that the dolls’ physical features can be adapted to meet specific requests, the intelligence and capabilities of each doll can also be varied and adapted for each robot. Standard market demand, however, is focused on the sexual capabilities of the mannequins.

 

Samantha, a robot capable of ’’feeling’’ an orgasm.

Photo: Joan Alvado

Sex robots can produce different sounds and reactions depending on the external stimulus they receive. The robots created by Santos can be pre-programmed according to three levels of difficulty, to make it easier or more difficult to excite the robot. According to Santos, these robots are capable of exhibiting feelings and can even feel an orgasm.

 

Sex robot Ava, with part of the hardware used to implement the brain, prior to being covered with a wig. The robots produced by Santos have three interaction modes: sexual, romantic and family.

Photo: Joan Alvado

Although customer demand is chiefly focused on the sex toy function, these robots can also hold a conversation, talk philosophy, or play roles more in keeping with a romantic partner.

 

Various models of sex doll before being equipped with the artificial intelligence circuits that make them into robots.

Photo: Joan Alvado

The dolls used by Santos’s company are made in China. Their designer creates mannequins. After being transported to Barcelona, they are adapted through the integration of computer chips that make them react to external stimuli.

This article has been translated from Spanish.