February 12, 2008

Falling In Love With Robots

It's not too hard to imagine sex with robots being almost commonplace in hundreds or thousands of years' time. In the distant future, when a partner is too exhausted to make love, or just doesn't feel like it, a futuristic sex robot that will do the trick seems almost feasible. But it could happen sooner, according to David Levy, the author of "Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relations".

Levy, who has a PhD in gender studies and artificial intelligence, predicts that by the middle of this century, having sexual relations with a robot will be commonplace and widely accepted. Levy claims that this revolution is near stating that the most expensive artificial skins and synthetic voices are already difficult to differentiate from the real thing. He concedes that it will be a long time before the difference between robot and human will be indistinguishable.

Twendy-One, a robot revealed in Japan last November, has the capability to cook, talk, obey verbal commands and use its silicon wrapped hands to relate to humans. It is robots like these that drive Levy's beliefs about the future of robotics.

Many agree that the product of Levy's vision is a possibility, although not everyone embraces it. Because of how quickly progress has been made with artificial intelligence and mimicking human movements, Levy's idea of a robot that will satisfy as well as communicate well does not seem entirely far-fetched.

Some artificial intelligence experts, such as Frederic Kaplan, a researcher in Switzerland at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale, disagree with Levy. Kaplan, who programmed the brain of Aibo, Sony's robot dog, does not believe that we will have truly human-like robots in Levy's proposed timeframe. He is also not entirely sure if we would want robots around that were impossible to differentiate from humans.

Kaplan, in reference to this very thing, stated, "Human-machine interactions will be interesting in their own right, not as 'simulation' of human relations."

Levy seems to believe that these robots will be so realistic that people will actually fall in love with them. He goes so far as to say that women may be more attracted to them than men, due to the recent surge of vibrator sales. He also is certain the demand for the robots will help to overcome psychological or technical difficulties in creating the product. He thinks the prospect of money will drive the project.

He may not be too far off in his opinion. A company called Axis has already created a basic version of a "sexbot" for men. This Japanese company calls its product Honeydolls. The life-size sex dolls are made with surgical-grade silicone and resin. Their breasts are outfitted with sensors so that when pinched or squeezed, a voice emits from the doll, whispering sweet things or squealing. For a more personalized "sexbot", the voice can be substituted with customized audio files.

Yvonne K. Fulbright, a writer whose typical topic is sex, thinks that Levy's "falling in love with robots" concept is improbable. She thinks that the stigma attached to sex robots is going to cause problems for the industry. No one wants to look that desperate, according to her. She also strongly disagrees with his theory about women embracing them, much less falling in love. Fulbright concedes that the product will most likely find a niche market with men wanting to fulfill sexual fantasies.

Future articles will be publicized on this topic; Levy will be featured in Scientific American in March, and an article in Hustler will appear in April.


On the Net:

"Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relations"