Sex & Relationships

Would You Have Sex With a Robot? The Age of the Sexbot Is Fast Approaching

Some experts predict a not-so-distant future of human-robot sex ...and love.

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What exactly makes the sex act sexy? Is it the rush of pheromones and invisible storm of sex-chemicals? The emotional uncertainty and fear that accompany intimate encounters with fellow humans? The pillow talk?

Proponents of robosexuality hold that you don’t need homo sapiens for a satisfying sexual experience. For them, the sleek proportions and permanent willingness of mechanical contraptions beat the complexity and messiness of sexy time with living, breathing organisms any day of the week.

Robots, after all, don’t tattle; they don’t reject you, and they don’t give you STDs. Soon enough, they may be able to simulate the verbal and cognitive responses of a real live person. In recent years, sex dolls (the Real Doll is a good example) have been getting much more realistic, some featuring vibrations and electronics that mimic human movements. Granted, they still look a little freaky. But the race for the perfect sex machine is on, and as robot technology advances, from the University of Texas' cutting-edge work on robot facial expressions to Cornell University's research into self-aware robots, Rosie the Robot is getting better all the time.

MacMil Cybernetics, Inc., maker of Sex Bots, invites you into the exciting world of the “life-like and life-size adult sex robot designed as an adult sex toy as well as a sexual companion.” The website features a blonde unit perched expectantly on a sofa wearing lacy underpants and Mary Jane pumps. She’s waiting for you, cowboy, and she won’t ask you to take out the trash.

Sex Bot devices come with various options such as radio remote control and/or interactive touch sensory, so if you touch it correctly it will "turn on." Ready for this? The skin can be removed for cleaning, or simply to change the look of your “companion.” 

OK, maybe you were ready for that. But what about this? Over at Forbes, Kashmir Hill discusses a future in which child sex robots will be readily available. Ron Arkin, Georgia Tech’s Mobile Robot Lab director does not approve of child sexbots, but he does think they might be useful as a way to deal with pedophiles, kind of like methadone for addicts. (Surely for some pedophiles, the chase and the interaction with the child is part of the allure, but maybe there are some who could be satisfied with a bot.)

Artificial intelligence researcher David Levy of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands forecasts that by 2050, humans will not only be having sex with robots, but will be enjoying romances, and even marriage with them.

Culturally, we do seem to be warming up to the idea. In Japan, where 40 percent of the world’s robots are made, manga and anime series regularly show sex and love between robots and humans. In the U.S. the 2013 film Her, which depicts a man falling in love with an intelligent computer operating system, explores the territory of human/non-human relationships. And readers of science fiction like Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? were already into ‘droid sex and romance back in the '80s.

Still sound a little far-fetched?  Consider this: A recent UK survey cited at the Daily Beast revealed that 1 in 5 people would do it with a robot. (One in 10 would have sex with a child robot.) Researcher Martin Smith, who conducted the study, advised that “robots will be able to show most, if not all, of the signs and behaviours of emotional intelligence…The robots will not feel, but like actors they will be able to show emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence is where the latex really hits the road. Inventor, futurist and Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil sees not only sex with robots in our future, but romantic experiences like strolling a "virtual Cancún beach.” His 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machinespredicts robots that will seem to have their own free will and even the capacity for "spiritual experiences.”

David Levy, who wrote the book Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships outlines a future in which human-robot sex and love are perfectly normal. He compares the connections we will have to robots to those we already have with pets, which many people, particularly Americans, treat like humans, despite knowing cognitively that they are not.

Others are more skeptical. Commenting on a new Pew report “AI, Robots, and the Future of Jobs,” GigaOM Research head Stowe Boyd acknowledges that robotic sex partners will become commonplace, but sees them as being “the source of scorn and division, the way that critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.”

David Holmes of PandoDaily doesn’t think that stroll on the beach is coming anytime soon:

“People will build sex robots, and they’ll continue to grow closer and closer to some acceptable level of simulated robot sex, but for the foreseeable future, they will be little more than glorified dolls, toys, and flesh-lights, only with more moving parts and therefore a greater risk for embarrassing hospital visits.”

So will the rise of sexbots put real live sex workers out of business? The jury is out on that one. The Pew report shows that experts are evenly divided between those who think robots will produce a net gain of jobs in industries where they become more prominent, and those who see a net loss. (I’m more convinced by the net gain camp.) Certainly, sexbots could be an attractive option for people with disabilities, like extreme shyness, but these are people who would be unlikely to visit a human sex worker.

John Danaher, lecturer in law at Keele University, does not see sexbots replacing sex workers. In an interview with Mother Jones, he draws a sports analogy, asking us to imagine a sports competition between robots. Sure, he says, some people will be interested in that. But it won’t replace the excitement of watching humans test their abilities against each other. He also mentions a phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley effect.” This hypothesis, put forth by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, holds that humans will find sexbots more, not less creepy the more sophisticated they become. An example of this effect has been observed in cases like audiences becoming uncomfortable watching overly realistic CGI effects in animated films. Danaher also proposes that if more people are unemployed in the future, more humans will turn to sex work, thus increasing the supply and allowing sex workers to out-compete sexbots.

However you feel about the rise of sexbots, one thing’s for sure: they are inevitably going to be on the menu, whether you order or not.

Lynn Parramore is an author and cultural theorist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.