Some people are calling it the end of intimacy, others the greatest thing to happen to lonely men everywhere. As creepy as it sounds, sex robots are now a thing and has recently started to catch on in mainstream media.
Purchasing a fully functioning sex robot will soon become a possibility due to the advancement in technology and artificial intelligence in recent years. Companies like Android and Abyss Creations are at the forefront of this revolution, using Artificial Intelligent technology to create scarily lifelike female companions for men starved of intimacy. Some studies show that up to 40% of heterosexual men would use a sex robot for pleasure, but this all raises a huge number of important questions morally, ethically and culturally about what it means to be human and what this will do to society in general. Is it considered cheating? Will it put sex workers out of work? Does this demean women?
The fierce debate surrounding how this will affect attitudes to women is only just starting to heat up, with organisations such as the Campaign Against Sex Robots saying it will encourage rape culture and potentially paedophilia. However, Abyss Creations are steaming ahead regardless of the plethora of ethical implications, already readying their assembly line to ship out the first AI sex robots in 2018, set to cost around $15,000.
One man who has been central to this debate is British artificial intelligence engineer Dr David Levy. Levy was one of the first to tell the world about this coming advancement way back in his groundbreaking 2007 book, Love and Sex With Robots. 10 years later he is organising an annual Love and Sex with Robots conference, bringing together some of the world’s most important thinkers in the area. This topic is a minefield for academics and society at large, so we asked the man in the eye of this debate to clarify some of the issues, and explain why people find the idea so creepy.
Matt McMullen, 46, CEO of Abyss Creations
Firstly, maybe you could respond to the widespread criticism of this area, that the idea of love and sex with robots is unnerving or creepy?
Different people have different attitudes. When the book was first published it was absolutely clear that the majority of people who heard about it were sceptical. There’s no denying that at all, but I do think that attitudes, in general, have changed since then.
In the book you published almost 10 years ago, you made some significant forecasts about the progress of this technology. Could you explain those?
Firstly I forecast that sex robots would soon be with us and that Abyss Creations, the Californian company making the RealDoll, would be the first in the market of manufacturing robots, and indeed they will be with their first products coming out later this year. I also forecast that by the year 2050, robots would be sophisticated enough that people would be wanting to marry them, as well as falling in love and having sex with them. I predicted that Massachusetts would be one of the first places to adopt this because firstly it is one of the most liberal-thinking states, being one of the first places in the world to take on the concept of same sex marriage, and secondly there are a lot of research institutes and private companies there working in the fields of AI and robotics.
“Imagine Tom Cruise saying that he had fantastic sex with a robot last weekend?”
Could celebrities adopt sex robots as well asks David Levy
I can imagine that the majority of users of these sex robots will be men. So what is your predicted ratio of usage in terms of men and women?
Initially, I would guess it will be true that men will be much more interested. If you look at the customer profile at Abyss Creations, I think they have 15 female models and 1 male, so there is clearly a very big gender bias at the moment. However, I think that the interest from women will grow – just look at how many women buy vibrators. In the UK it’s about 2.5 million a year and in the US I understand that it’s closer to 30 million a year, so if that number of women can get sexual satisfaction from a vibrator, then surely a robot speaking in a nice male voice that the woman finds attractive, that also has a vibrating penis that is warm to the touch, acting and moving in the way that a human moves, surely more than a handful of women are going to be interested in this? Then imagine Tom Cruise saying that he had fantastic sex with a robot last weekend? Just one interview like that with a famous person would be enough to send half the population of the US rushing out to get one. When the book was originally published I did an interview with a radio station in Toronto, and they sent one of their researchers out to some sex shops in the city to see what people thought of the idea. One woman customer said that she thought it was a great idea because most men don’t know what they’re doing in bed.
Do you think that there are societal problems leading to this phenomenon of men not being able to engage with women who would rather have a relationship with a sex robot?
Absolutely, and I think that hits the nail on the head. I firmly believe that one of the biggest markets for this product is going to be those people who find it difficult to make satisfactory and normal relationships with humans. Such people are lonely and miserable because they can’t find anyone to love, can’t find anyone who wants to have sex with them so the only way they can have sex is to pay for it. I think that robots will fill a huge void in these people’s lives and make them a lot happier.
But what happens if we get to the stage where men are unable to form normal relationships with women as a result of using these sex robots?
Personally, I don’t think it will happen, but there is no evidence either way because none of these products are on the market. I think we need to wait, give it time and see how people react. There will obviously be a lot of research by psychiatrists and other fields to assess the moral, legal and social implications of having sex with robots.
Can a robot provide the same emotional intelligence as a human?
I believe that in the middle of this century the robots will be so lifelike that many people will find it perfectly natural to have emotional and physical relationships with them and to be convinced that the robots love them back. The fact that the robot can’t actually love you isn’t important – what is important is that it can give the appearance of loving you.
Do you think this plays into the general anxiety we have in society at the moment about automation? First we lose our jobs to robots then we start marrying them…
There will obviously be extreme views on it. Even if you look at all the progress that has been made on it, there are a lot of people today who are violently opposed to same sex marriage – there are some countries in the world where gay people can be executed for having sexual relationships with each other. In fact, there is an academic paper written by two Malaysians in which they say that sex with robots is against the tenets of Islam and that it should be punishable by death.
“I believe that in the middle of this century the robots will be so lifelike that many people will find it perfectly natural to have emotional and physical relationships with them.”
THE FUTURE OF INTIMACY AND SEX ROBOTS
Have there been any test models rolled out to see how the robots work?
Well, I’m sure Abyss Creations are doing a lot of tests but you have to be careful what you read. There have been a lot of references in the media recently to a guy in the US called Douglas Hines who has a product he calls Roxxy. He announced it in 2010 and claimed it was a sex robot that was warm and could talk to you about any subject you wished including Manchester United etc. I’m convinced that he is a confident trickster – I don’t know anyone who has actually seen one of his robots being demonstrated, he has refused every request that had been made by journalists to see it. He has a wonderful scam where you pay your $6000 and agree that you won’t get any money back. At one point he said he had 4,000 customers, meaning that he has made $24 million in the bank and hasn’t delivered a single robot. I think he would have been arrested by now if it weren’t for the customers being too embarrassed to go to the police.
Will you own a robot when they become available to buy?
I wouldn’t want to have a sex robot permanently but out of curiosity, I would try one out.