Would you have sex with a robot? An impromptu poll of colleagues and friends drew answers ranging from “yes, but only if it was a fully sentient, consenting robot” to “yes, but only if it wasn’t a sentient robot” to “yes, if I could program it and specify exactly what I wanted…no unexpected exploratory penetration, please”. (We’ve paraphrased that last one a little.)
The enduring concept of human-robot intercourse – a concept that automatically seems to provoke queasy soul-searching and uncomfortable reflection – has been touched upon by films and TV shows from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (technically about replicants, but the human/non-human conundrum still holds), to Channel 4’sHumans, to Alex Garland’s dark 2015 drama Ex Machina.
Now HBO’s new sci-fi series Westworld, set in a futuristic theme park (and inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 film), depicts human visitors having “non-consensual” sex with the attraction’s lifelike robot hosts. The bleak implication is that, given the opportunity to “rape” without consequences, humans would do just that.
But is it really possible to rape a robot? And how soon will such technology exist outside the realm of sci-fi films and TV shows?
Depressingly (or fascinatingly, depending on your viewpoint), one engineer and futurist believes that, by the year 2050, human-robot sex could be more common than the human-on-human variety.
“A lot of people will still have reservations about sex with robots at first but gradually as they get used to them, as the AI and mechanical behaviour and their feel improves, and they start to become friends with strong emotional bonds, that squeamishness will gradually evaporate” Dr Ian Pearson explained last year, after releasing a report in conjunction with sex toy manufacturers Bondara.
“While some people will enthusiastically embrace relationship-free robot sex as soon as they can afford one, as early as 2025, it won’t have much chance of overtaking sex with humans overall until 2050.”
Elsewhere, one sex doll manufacturer is already exploring some of the ways in which AI technology could be used to enhance his product.
Matt McMullen, whose US-based Real Doll company promises customers “the world’s finest love dolls” and specialises in custom-made companions (you can even order a doll with bespoke toes, according to a New York Times profile), believes that his Realbotix project could be on the market by 2017.
As the NYT video above explains, the new dolls will feature “convincing artificial intelligence” and “a robotic head that can blink and open and close its mouth”, which will be attached to one of the company’s existing artificial bodies. In the future, McMullen hopes to create a fully animated, fully responsive body, connected to the “intelligent” head.