• Sexbot tech is probably not what you imagine - yet!
  • Conversational AI is moving forward quickly, offering more lifelike companionship
  • Do we really want a male sexbot with a bionic penis?
  • Critics are… well… critical

We’ve written about sexbots before, highlighting the technological and ethical challenges of creating sexualised gynoids. On the tech side, engineers are still working out the kinks. There’ve been strides in safety sensors responsive to the kind of tactile feedback that makes cobots safe to work around, but sex with a robot still promises more danger than fun right now. And the ethical challenges are no less profound. As experts like Cindy Gallop, the founder of Makelovenotporn, worry, current sex dolls - including semi-robotic versions - reproduce societal standards of hotness, objectifying women and encouraging a porn-driven version of bodies and love-making.

https://youtu.be/KSAn6qh5xm8

These hurdles haven’t stopped Realbotix CEO Matt McMullen. With its sister company RealDoll to draw on, McMullen’s is forging forward with servo-driven, ‘smart’ heads attached to super-lifelike bodies. And the final frontier for Realbotix is a male sexbot - due to be released this year.

Sexbot tech is probably not what you imagine - yet!

Sexbots are still pretty primitive. As Samantha Cole writes for Motherboard, “There’s little evidence that sex robots are the horny dystopian nightmare — or fantasy — that headlines make them out to be, but that doesn’t stop people from hyping them. Hot sexbots won’t end sex. And we won’t see a commercially available, self-aware, humanoid sex robot in every home anytime soon.” That’s because the technical challenges of real robotic sex are pretty stiff. As delicate as servos fitted with sensitive feedback sensors can be, jumping into bed with a robot would very likely kill you. Kyle Machulis, a teledildonics developer - which is exactly what you’re thinking it is - warns that the kind of tech needed for real sexbots just isn't close. “We aren't anywhere near there in terms [of] fidelity yet in sex toys, or really, in any market sector involving robots … There's a lot of tech that doesn't exist yet that we'll need to pull this off in the way people imagine when they think ‘sex robots’.”

 

 Two side-by-side photos of male sex robots in underwear As Samantha Cole writes for Motherboard, “There’s little evidence that sex robots are the horny dystopian nightmare — or fantasy — that headlines make them out to be, but that doesn’t stop people from hyping them.

 

Conversational AI is moving forward quickly, offering more lifelike companionship

But where tech is advancing quickly is interaction - at least of the conversational kind. McMullen’s Harmony system, also slated for 2018 unveiling, combines fine facial movements that mimic human emotions with some pretty snazzy artificial intelligence (AI). Paired with a mobile app, Alessandra Maldonado reports for Salon that this complex system can be adjusted to pre-sets, such as “‘affectionate,’ ‘talkative’ and ‘funny’”. Even Harmony’s faces are customisable; they’re attached via magnets to an underlying frame, allowing users to change the appearance of their bot. These lifelike heads - male and female - are then attached above a realistic body, giving ‘life’ to an inanimate doll.

But the goal of all this tech isn’t purely sexual. As McMullen insists, this is about real intimacy, even if the partner is fake. "Imagine if you were completely lonely and you just wanted someone to talk to, and yes, someone to be intimate with," he says. "What is so wrong with that? It doesn't hurt anybody." As Digital Technology and Science Editor Sean Keach quotes him in The Sun, “People have accused us of objectifying women, but i[t]'s important that people know that this is more than a sex toy."

Take a look for yourself (warning: definitely NSFW). Can you imagine a conversation with her over a glass of wine?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pKczGG19uo

We can’t, either...

Do we really want a male sexbot with a bionic penis?

Now, McMullen plans to release a male version of this roughly $10,000 synthetic partner. As he tells Keach, "We have a lot of female customers interested in buying male robots as companions to talk to and interact with.” Offering anatomically male sexbots is a natural extension of his business. The Sun spares no detail about what to expect. According to them, “McMullen teased that the dolls would be fitted with a bionic penis that he claims will feel ‘better than a vibrator’. He added that users would be able to ‘plug the robot in’, meaning that the sex droid could go ‘as long as you want’.”

 

A naked woman hugging a robot in bed with satin sheets Now, McMullen plans to release a male version of this roughly $10,000 synthetic partner.

 

Critics are… well… critical

For critics concerned about how sexbots objectify women, this might seem like a victory. Realbotix has finally turned this dehumanising gaze on men, too. And turnabout is certainly fair play. But Cindy Gallop isn’t impressed. As she told Cole in a phone conversation, McMullen’s understanding of what women want is no less coloured by a preoccupation with porn and its break with reality. “‘As long as you want’ is not the female definition of fantastic mind blowing sex,” she said after reading aloud McMullen’s tabloid descriptions. “That presumes that the only thing that represents great sex for women is jackhammering her for as long as you possibly can.” In her mind, the move to male bots isn’t an improvement. It’s just rehashing the same old status quo.

As Kate Devlin, a noted sexpert observes, “Sex robots and sex toys are two diverging paths, with the sex robot in its current form arising out of the sex doll market … It would be much more interesting and much less controversial if those paths could converge, with embodied, interactive sex technology in abstract, non-human forms.” in other words, rather than focusing on male bodies and hyper-realistic faces, Devlin would prefer a sexbot revolution where women’s pleasure was the goal. That might mean designs that are far more abstract, and far less simulationist, than what Realbotix plans to offer.

The future of sexbots is unclear, to say the least. Will cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona embrace sex bots as a solution to problems of human sex work? Will tech allow physical interaction more convincing than an animatronic head on a doll body? Will the ethical snags grind sexbot progress to a halt? Only time will tell.

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This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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