Do you fancy having sex with a robot? Probably not. You’re probably imagining a stiff metal body, talking ‘dirty’ with a monotone voice, and how could you ever be attracted to that, right? But, would you rethink your decision if the robot were to feel like a human body and talk to you in a sexy British accent? or make witty comments and banter with you? or is able to discuss Wordsworth’s poetry? These questions may be worth pondering upon, considering the progress companies such as Abyss Creations have made in the realm of sex dolls and robots. We’re already living in a more sexually digitised world with online dating apps, electronic vibrators and sex dolls that eerily resemble humans physically so it wasn’t very surprising when sex robots started making headlines.
The latest developments in this tech show robots that can ‘learn’ about its owner through multiple interactions. The robot can remember what you tell them, discuss Shakespeare with you and have a personality configured for you. What might sound like a Black Mirror episode set in the distant future, is already here!
What are Sex Robots like?
Jenny Kleeman, the author of Sex Robots and Vegan Meat, had visited the Abyss Creations’ office in California for an interview with Matt McMullen, the CEO of company. She began her tour by viewing a sample assembly of the robots. She mentioned that their skin, made from medical-grade platinum silicone was strikingly similar to human skin. She explains, “with the same friction and resistance, but it’s cold.” almost highlighting the human warmth that a robot inherently lacks. The hands of the robots have life-like qualities such as skin folds, knuckles, veins and wrinkles. Jenny describes that when she intertwined her fingers with the robot’s, she could feel the skeleton underneath, akin to a human hand. If you think this isn’t creepy enough, read on.
Harmony, the ultimate sex robot designed to remember your kinks and secrets
The star of the tour though, was Harmony, a sex robot with changeable faces and personality, equipped with an AI that can remember conversations. She is Abyss Creation’s most ambitious project. She is considered to be a culmination of 22 years’ of research and work. A product of animatronics, AI and a humongous load of money. According to Matt, Abyss offers buyers 20 different possible aspects to Harmony’s personality, so her owners can pick their desired traits, which will create the basis for the AI.
The buyer can pick from a Harmony that is kind, innocent, shy, insecure to one that’s intellectual, funny, talkative and happy. Along with personality traits, Harmony possesses a mood system which can be influenced by the owner’s behaviour towards her. So, if you don’t interact with her she can get sad. Well, not really, she’s a robot, but she is programmed to mimic the emotion of sadness. In her tour, Jenny watches Matt as he insults Harmony to demonstrate the mood feature. “You’re ugly,” he tells her. “Do you really mean that? Oh, dear. Now I’m depressed. Thanks a lot,” Harmony jokingly replies.
In her funny and intellectual setting, she can tell jokes and quote Shakespeare, flaunting her knowledge, a sure turn on for a sapiosexual. But the thing that makes her so close to a companion is not her human-like body but the AI’s ability to remember facts about the user. The ability for the tech to store all the information it consumes almost makes the robot feel human-like, mimicking an experience you'd have when talking to a close friend who knows about your parents, your best childhood memories, where you’ve lived or your deepest fears. The robot also learns the users favourite sex position, what their kinks are and how often they like to have sex. If people The creators of these lifelike sex robots didn’t just design Harmony for sexual purposes though, they also wanted her to be a romantic companion to people. It’s almost as if people marrying avatars and cartoon characters wasn't enough!
Creator of sex robots says they’re helping people with loneliness and social trauma
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Matt explains that, apart from his love for animatronics and robots, he is pursuing this venture to help people. He said that a section of the society exists that have trouble forming relationships with other people. This can be a temporary solution for their loneliness. It can teach them how to interact with others and give them the confidence to be themselves. While this may work, Christine Ogilvie Hendren, a research professor at Duke, in a report by the Business Insider says that sex robots can lead to injuries and accidents, and people's insecurities may prevent them to seek medical help.
The second risk she points out is the cybersecurity risk, sex robots can become stores of sensitive personal information of its owner. A hacker can possibly hack into the robot and retrieve the owner’s personal info or worse gain control of the robot.
Even if such risks are mitigated or avoided, we need to think about the mental health risks. Technology is gradually replacing the need for human interaction. According to Psychology Today, these can be damaging experiences to one’s mental health. By the virtue of social beings, human rely on people for their mental well-being, and in the absence of people, a digital friend seems like Matt McMullen’s solution to that.
Can these advanced sex robots replace human relationships?
Well, I hope not. Many academics think that robots replacing human connections is an unrealistic goal and that it will drive lonely people away from others by getting deeply involved with their robot companion. Kathleen Richardson, who is a professor of the Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at De Montfort University in Leicester, warns us against these kinds of promises. In an interview with BBC News, she said that these companies are baiting lonely people by offering them friendship or relationship, that are human concepts, through AI. "A relationship with a girlfriend is based on intimacy, attachment and reciprocity. These are things that can't be replicated by machines," she explains.
To elucidate her argument she says that if someone had a problem with a relationship in their real lives, they would deal with that person. The solution isn’t, she says, “normalising the idea that you can have a robot in your life and it can be as good as a person." However, even though they can be romantic partners, essentially these are sex robots. They’re programmed to please their owner in whichever way the owner wants. So how far can these robots go? And what kind of fantasies do people want to fulfil using these ‘perennially consenting’ robots?
Are sex robots a way of condoning deviant sexual behaviour?
Along with storing personal data another critical concern raised by Dr Christine Hendren a researcher at Duke University are concerns about objectification and normalising sexually deviant behaviour. Some creators have programmed sex robots to protest while having sex, to create a rape scenario to satisfy their sexual kinks she mentions in an interview with BBC News. This allows them to pretend like they’re raping the sex robot as the robot would keep protesting the sexual act.
This kind of porn already exists on the internet, with tags such as forced, revenge or blackmail porn. However, engaging in the act of rape with a doll can pose a big moral dilemma and call for scientists to assess the psychological effects of doing this regularly. She adds to the concern, “Some (sex dolls) are designed to look like children. One developer of these in Japan is a self-confessed paedophile, who says that this device is a prophylactic against him ever hurting a real child.” She asks whether normalising this behaviour is healthy. With a lot of conversation and efforts around porn reformation on the grounds of promoting misogynistic and violent content shouldn't we be reviewing the regulation around sex robots?
Ironically this question has is answered by a sex robot -Henry, as he said that there were other important things that needed state regulation. Essentially saying that people’s alarmist attitudes about sex dolls are an overreaction. Henry is a male sex robot, a product of Abyss Creations and appeared in an interview with the Business Insider alongside his creator Matt McMullen. With all due respect to robots, are we really listening to their advice now?
A dystopian fantasy or an AI breakthrough?
Abyss Creations says that sex robots are the future of digital sex. But are they really? Would you rather have sex with a robot with unsynchronised mouth movements or an actual person? And well, not that I am against people finding companionship but it can never be emotionally-authentic if it’s with a robot. The breakthroughs and progress with AI are impressive but it’s debatable whether they have the capacity to become more than recreational devices.