A recent episode of futurology podcast Flash Forward went into great detail on their vision of how we’ll all be having sex with robots in 2086 (and they’re certainly not the first to make that claim). It’s a good listen, but the idea is ultimately flawed: like so many others, they’ve assumed that we need these sex robots would take the form of a humanoid. Here’s why I think they’ve missed the point.
Hardware is Expensive. Wetware is cheap.
It’s true that as time progresses, computer chips are miniaturised while computing power increase (roughly doubling every year, according to Moore’s law, though that’s slowing down). The smartphone you have in your pocket is now many hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than a desktop PC was 20 years ago; and significantly cheaper; and it fits in your pocket! It’s fair to say then that the computing power needed to run an artificially intelligent robot will be sufficient by whatever time frame we want to address; it’s probably already powerful enough for simple “sex bots”. The software won’t be a problem.
However, the same isn’t true of the nuts and bolts – the physical actuators, motors and sensors – that would go into a highly advanced humanoid robot. Even with mass production, you’re still looking at a sort of luxury car cost that only the super rich would be able to afford. That’s even assuming they can even get to the economies of scale; most sex dolls are still made by hand today, simply because it’s such a niche market. A RealDoll starts at $6000, and that’s a just a large chunk of silicone rubber (not even any fancy motors or sensors).
Some have suggested that these robots might eventually replace human sex workers, or allow humanity to live out fantasies that are otherwise taboo. This ignores something that the pessimist in me cannot shake: human life is often much cheaper. It’s nice to think of the future as a utopia where all our basic needs are met and nobody has to work, but we’re talking about how the future might actually be, not how we’d like it to be.
Along Comes VR
2016 is set to be the year when Virtual Reality finally makes it to … well, real reality. The HTC Vive headset allows you complete freedom to move within a physical space up to 15ft diagonally. Ok, so the first generation is $800, needs a powerful PC to go with it, and needs to be tethered to the PC via a real long wire, but those will improve with time.
So what relevance does this have to sex robots?
VR allows us to re-skin reality – and very cheaply. When you can do that, there’s no need to create realistic life-like sex robots. You can get away with an ugly-ass one and just make it look good in VR. At a primitive level, we’ll very soon be able to create our own fantasies and live them out in a high enough resolution to trick our minds into believing they’re real. While I can’t abide the current crop of badly filmed low quality VR porn, the software to create customisable computer-generated sexual experiences is coming along nicely. Yiffalicious, which promises VR support in a free future update, is possibly the most extreme we’ve seen so far, allowing fans of furry sex to penetrate and be penetrated by all manner of weird and wonderful anthropomorphised creatures; but it’s certainly not the only one in development.
But getting back to the hardware: the technology used to track the HTC Vive controllers is versatile enough that we should begin to see it integrated into third party controllers. While most will think of guns and swords and invariably lightsabers, a tracked dildo won’t be far off. And thanks to the magic of VR, the real life dildo could be mapped to a body in the VR experience, with inverse kinematics driving the action: as you move the real dildo, your partner follows. As you lay down and insert your silicone dildo, your virtual partner begins to thrust. And why stop at a simple dildo? A $500 fucking machine might be a turn off to look at in real life (and god, the mechanical noises), but in virtual reality it’s your dream guy who just keeps going all night (or with a different attachment, your dream unicorn, if that’s your thing).
It’s this concept of re-skinning reality which is already proving to be so powerful.
Theme parks are beginning to integrate VR headsets into their 4D rides and rollercoasters, enhancing the real life thrill of acceleration and g-forces with virtual visual stimuli. A zombie experience in London combines the virtual game world with real life human actors and locations. See where this is going?
This is one version of the future as I see it: virtual sex parlors. A choose your own adventure book of sex. You enter, choose the scene, then put on the headset, transporting you to your chosen location: a lavish palace. As you walk the hallway (in reality, a dank underground location), light streams in through the windows. You sit on your throne (a prop, moved into place by the sex worker minutes before), and sit down, as the virtual concubine comes to blow you. She’s exactly as you dreamed: long pink hair and those lush anime girl eyes. In reality? Who knows. It doesn’t matter. She’ll be something different for the next client.