Would people have sex with a robot? What kind of relationship can we have with a robot? Will robot sex workers and bordellos be acceptable? Could robots help with sexual healing and therapy? Would sex robots help to reduce sex crimes?
These are just some of the questions pondered in a 40-page report prepared by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics that suggests adults are ready for the most intimate and lifelike encounter with artificial intelligence.
“The success of dolls for sexual gratification has set a clear path for the role of robotics in the future of sex,” write the authors of the report. “The company that can create the most realistic intimate sex companion at the right price is most likely to capture the largest market share.”
Although some of the human-like dolls currently on the market move, they're still passive sexual partners. But the report concludes that the future of these bedroom companions will be interactive. Like a real living human, sexbots will respond to the user’s touch and voice.
The novelty sex market is already on the fast track to incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into its products. The report predicts it won’t be long until we see “a merging of dildonics with robotics.” That may be the logical progression of the sex toy market, which has become increasingly sophisticated; devices such as the Rabbit—made popular by Sex and the City —seem almost provincial now. And, of course, the inflatable female-shaped doll is now less of a novelty than a joke that ends up in the trash.
The report also suggests sex robots will be a boon for long-distance relationships. Many companies have already created sex toys that can be operated remotely, allowing for some relatively long-distance couples to engage in some relatively kinky play. Sexbots could potentially also be operated from hundreds of miles away (and, of course, made to look like one’s real life partner).
The thought of getting it on with a bombshell R2D2 makes some people squirm uncomfortably in their seat or cringe. But it turns out many people are onboard with the idea, according to a number of studies and surveys. One published in 2016 surveyed 100 adults aged 21 to 61. It found nearly two-thirds of the men and a third of women were open to the idea of having sex with a robot. And 86 percent of all respondents believed that a robot would be capable of satisfying their sexual desires.
The authors of the report point out that we already have some cultural frame of reference for robot sex, portrayed in a number of films and books such as Steven Spielberg’s AI, which features robotic sex workers, Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jane. But the idea of robot sex far precedes the movies, dating as far back as the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion, according to the report. In that story, the artist, Pygmalion carved a statue from ivory, and then made a special bed so he could sleep with it. He fell in love with his creation, and eventually Aphrodite transformed it into a real woman.
Like the Greek artist, some people are interested in more than sex with a non-human companion. They’re also interested in courtship, romance and maybe even love. Another survey of 1,002 from 2016 found a quarter were prepared to go on a date with a human-like robot (and presumably foot the dinner bill).
Robot sex is already a pricey habit. Current models cost between $5,000 and $15,000, and companies such as Android Love Doll allows buyers to customize the dolls (such as hair and eye color, breast size and body shape). They’re also very flexible; the company boasts the users can rearrange the torso and limbs for some 50 flexible positions. But in the future the robotic sexual companion won’t need to be adjusted by its user. It will simply know when it’s time to lie down on its back. Or, uhm, do something a little more creative.