The adult industry has actually done a lot for the world of technology. Our general level of horniness has helped mainstream things like home video formats to the adoption of virtual reality, this is an industry that quickly jumps on anything that offers a fresh experience.
It’s not just all visual material however, the sex toy industry has also pushed the envelope when it comes to technology. Teledildonics, for example, allow couples to be intimate using the internet and smart sex toys.
At the cutting edge of that trend is the sex robot. An animated take on the sex doll. While this is not something that gets much coverage in the mainstream media, the market for such dolls is massive. People are willing to pay obscene amounts of money for top-class sex dolls and that money is driving even more development.
The Real Deal RealDoll
The king of the hill when it comes to high-end sex dolls is a company called RealDoll. Their products start at an eye-popping $6000 and go up from there depending on your customizations and advanced features.
While obviously designed to be sexually appealing, RealDoll has actually managed to cross some tough technical hurdles in creating a product that people actually want to buy. One huge issue in robotics is something known as the Uncanny Valley. This is a reaction of disgust to an artificial humanoid who is very close to human, but not quite. Simply put, robots that fall into this valley creep people out. We’ve seen robots like the Actroids from Kokoro of Japan, which look very realistic, but really trigger that uncanny valley reaction in some people.
Clearly RealDoll would not sell their product if it caused disgust in people, so they have gone to great lengths to make their products as real as possible. Hence the name. They’ve developed silicon skin that feels like the real thing. The doll’s “flesh” also has to feel right and you can even get heating to simulate body temperature.
Clearly these innovations can be applied directly to robots that have to look human. Fuelled by the deep pockets of sexually adventurous humans, we could all benefit from robots that look and feel human.
Combined with the incredible advancements in robotic motion achieved by Honda, Boston Dynamics and other leaders in the field, the future android in your home or place of work could owe it’s easy integration to the sex doll industry.
More Than a Feeling?
However, we can’t look past the fact that these dolls are, well, just dolls. They don’t do anything.
That’s changing as well, with the release of the RealDoll X. The name is a bit misleading, because it’s actually just a head. This is however a robotic head with a computer inside. It’s basically running a chatbot application within an animatronic head, but as an upgrade to a “simple” high-end doll it is transformative. To understand why, we have to delve a little into the world of high-end sex dolls to learn that it’s often about more than gratification.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
It may be surprising to a lot of people, but sex doll aficionados spend only some (if any) time doing anything sexual with their toy. For some lonely or otherwise atypical individuals the doll is actually a companion. Someone who sits at the dinner table, watches TV with you and so on.
Before you cast judgement, there are plenty of people who have intimacy problems, but still have the core human need for companionship. There are even therapists who have prescribed these dolls for such individuals. When you consider that the uses people actually put these dolls to is much more complicated than expected, the challenge of making one intelligent and interactive is quite daunting.
The upgraded head, which fits onto a standard RealDoll body, completely transforms the nature of the beast. No longer is it an object that requires imagination to become more than a collection of plastic and silicone parts. While it still can’t move by itself, the doll can now talk, respond and hold a conversation.
On a certain level this makes it no more impressive than Siri or Cortana, but this is a different approach at a fundamental level. All people interact with the same Siri. She never changes and certainly doesn’t have custom personalities.
The RealDoll software lets you fine tune the personality traits of the doll until you have something specific to you. Of course, if you want to you can change it later. I suppose it’s even possible to create a robot with multiple personalities, depending on the mood of the owner.
The company is really putting a hell of a lot of effort into making their AI interface for these dolls as natural as possible. They are layering more and more nuance and variability into it all the time.
Listening to demo videos of the animatronic head in action, it’s clear that the company is on to something. If you strip away the explicit parts of the experience, you’re left with a conversational AI that actually does a good job of showing some human warmth. Without which the product won’t sell.
One day the robots that will care for us and act as our helpers and companions may end up with quite a lot of sexbot DNA in them. Because while companies like Boston Dynamics try to make machines that can cater to our material needs, companies like RealDoll are working to make ones that cater to our emotional ones. In the end our transhuman future is going to need both of these approaches to be worth it.