It was always inevitable that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would eventually be used for sexual purposes. Humanity has no shame. According to futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson, 2050 will be the year that human/robot sex overtakes human/human. Artificial intelligence researcher David Levy from the University of Maastricht takes things even further, telling LiveScience that people could be marrying robots by 2050. This happens to be 3 years after the singularity - when artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence - which likely means that the dynamics of such relationships are going to be extremely complicated.
Many companies are already making progress in the quest for fully fledged AI-enabled ’sex robots’. California-based RealDoll, for example, is in the process of developing a robot called Realbotix. According to The New York Times, Realbotix will include convincing AI, with a robotic head that blinks and opens and closes its mouth. And they’ve not stopped there. They want something you can fall in love with. So they’ve added a virtual assistant and companion mobile app, as well as a virtual reality headset that can be used alongside the doll.
Obviously, what RealDoll has essentially created is a metal secretary you can fornicate with whenever you want. This may well be what some men are still looking for, but encouraging such a retrograde attitude is obviously going to raise the hackles of anyone who thought society had moved on from the days of Mad Men. There is now even a campaign to put an end to the development of such technology completely. The leader of this campaign, Dr Kathleen Richardson, has argued that using AI in such a way is unnecessary and undesirable, noting that, ‘Sex robots seem to be a growing focus in the robotics industry and the models that they draw on - how they will look, what roles they would play - are very disturbing indeed.’ She believes that they reinforce traditional stereotypes of women, and reduce the idea of relationships to something that is purely physical.
In their current form, Richardson may well be right, but there is vast scope for machine learning to be applied that enable sex robots to be more complicated than this. Such algorithms can help the machines learn from their surroundings to deliver emotional responses based both on their user and women as a gender within society. There is also evidence from researchers in New Zealand that replacing human sex workers with robots will have a number of positive ramifications, potentially reducing the spread of STIs and sex trafficking.
The speed at which social norms around sex have evolved since the 1960s has been tremendous, so it seems logical that AI will not take long to become widely accepted as the new normal. In 2014, a UK poll found 1 in 5 people said they would have sex with a robot. However, it’s going to take some getting used to. While the success of blow-up dolls evidences a market for such products, the progression from inflatable doll to full blown robot is a big jump. At the moment, these issues are still some way off. At present, data analytics is being used for sex toys in simpler forms. Berkley-based Lioness, for example, is building a sex toy with five built-in sensors that connect to a smartphone app, providing information such as user’s individual muscle responses, body temperatures, and other physical factors. It then leverages this data to offer insights around the best way to use the device based on individual and aggregate data. It is likely that fully fledged sex robots will be able to offer similar functionality using sensors and data collection. In his 2007 book, Love and Sex With Robots, Davy Levy noted that they will be able to teach us more than is held in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined about lovemaking.
The opportunities to analyze the data are not just profound for sex either, they should be able to tell us a lot about our own physical and mental health. A robot that learns so much about our emotions is sure to be able to pick up signifiers around depression -particularly important for anyone buying a robot wife. Admittedly, there are many legitimate fears over security. As with all IoT, they are often far too easily accessed by proactive hackers, as it is still a fairly immature technology. This was highlighted recently by software security firm Trend Micro at a media demonstration. They showed that a vibrator could be hacked from a hacker’s laptop. This would lead to some exceptionally personal data being stolen, and could easily leave the victim open to blackmail.
At the moment, such devices are prohibitively expensive. The Realbotix is expected to cost $10,000 for the head, and $30,000–$60,000 for the accompanying body. Most similar devices range from $5,000 to $10,000, which is significantly more than many would be willing to pay. However, this price will come down, and the technology will vastly improve. Whether this is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.