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 miniaturized while computing power increases (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 needed in a humanoid robot. Even with the cost benefits of 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 even that’s just a large chunk of silicone with a poseable metal frame.

Anita, from AMC/Channel 4's series Humans, would likely not be affordable by the average middle class family.

Anita, from AMC/Channel 4’s series Humans, would likely be affordable by only the super-rich.

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 realistically be, not how we’d like it to be. We’re already wage slaves to the elite of society. It’s certainly not a stretch to think that in a dystopian future, we’re sex slaves, too.

Along Comes VR

It’s now been almost a decade since the first commercially available consumer-grade VR headset was brought to market. But what relevance does this have to sex robots?

VR allows you to re-skin reality–and very cheaply. For under $500, the Quest 2 is a standalone VR headset that requires no external trackers; it can even track your hands. In fact, it’s our pick of the best VR headsets for porn.

When you have the ability to reskin reality, 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.

The software to create customizable computer-generated sexual experiences is already 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 anthropomorphized creatures; but it’s certainly not the only one in development.

yiffalicious

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?

VR Sex Brothels

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.

In fact, a brothel in the US called BunnyRanch is already doing this. Patrons get to strap on a headset, pick out their fantasy, and the on-screen action is mimicked in real life.

Is there actually a future in hyper-realistic robot sex dolls, or is all pointless with VR software?