Summary: We prefer cartoonish visions of the future, utopian and dsytopian. For good reason, since clearer visions range from disturbing to mind-blowing. Sexbots are coming, the next generation of automation. They’ll bring a future of the mind-blowing kind, for which we will not prepare because we don’t want to see it.
“This will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).
I have written much about the fake crisis that our leaders use to keep us fearful, with our attention focused where they want it. I’ve written about shockwaves (low probability, high impact scenarios). There is a third category: events quite likely — yet we refused to see them, let alone prepare. Two I have discussed are the mass unemployment coming from the 3rd industrial revolution (now beginning) and the return of past extreme weather.
Another event of the third kind might have even larger effects: the arrival of sexbots. The easy and cheap availability of porn and games already might have reduced the number of men interested in assuming the burdens of marriage. The number of such defectors will skyrocket eventually, inevitably as sexbots gain increased functionality at affordable prices.
Journalists have begun warning us (see below). But we saw with news about the pause in atmospheric warming that a few low-key articles do little to gain our attention (the BBC ran articles about the pause in 2008 and in 2009, yet 5 years later the media still overflowed with confident denials of the pause).
I don’t know what effect sexbots will have on society. But I’ll bet it will be bigger than we can imagine. I suggest we start to think about it.
A vision of the year 2050
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
— Attributed to Roy Charles Amara as paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely.
For a vision of our likely future see “Robots, Men And Sex Tourism” by Ian Yeoman (Assoc Prof Business, Victoria U) and Michelle Mars (sexologist) in Futures, May 2012. It’s gated. Here’s an excerpt, a conservative description of a world where robots have automated prostitution and perhaps to some extent replaced wives and girlfriends.
The Yub-Yum is Amsterdam’s top sex club for business travelers located beside a 17th century canal house on the Singel. It is modern and gleaming with about 100 scantily clad blonde and brunettes parading around in exotic G-strings and lingerie. Entry costs s10,000 for an all inclusive service.
The club offers a full range of sexual services from massages, lap dancing and intercourse in plush surroundings. The Yub-Yum is a unique bordello licensed by the city council, staffed not by humans but by androids.
This situation came about due to an increase in human trafficking in the sex industry in the 2040s which was becoming unsustainable, combined with an increase in incurable STI’s in the city especially HIV which over the last decade has mutated and is resistant to many vaccines and preventive medicines. Amsterdam’s tourist industry is built on an image of sex and drugs. The council was worried that if the red light district were to close, it would have a detrimental effect on the city’s brand and tourism industry, as it seemed unimaginable for the city not to have a sex industry. Sex tourism is a key driver for stag parties and the convention industry.
The Yub-Yum offers a range of sexual gods and goddesses of different ethnicities, body shapes, ages, languages and sexual features. The club is often rated highly by punters on www.punternet.com and for the fifth year in a row, in 2049 was voted the world’s best massage parlour by the UN World Tourism Organisation. The club has won numerous technology and innovation awards including the prestigious ISO iRobotSEX award.
The most popular model is Irina, a tall, blonde, Russian exotic species who is popular with Middle Eastern businessmen. The tourists who use the services of Yub-Yum are guaranteed a wonderful and thrilling experience, as all the androids are programmed to perform every service and satisfy every desire.
… The impact of Yub-Yum club and similar establishments in Amsterdam has transformed the sex industry by alleviating all health and human trafficking problems. The only social issues surrounding the club are the resistance from human sex workers who say they can’t compete on price and quality, therefore forcing many of them to close their shop windows. All in all, the regeneration of Amsterdam’s sex industry has been about the success of the new breed of sex worker.
Even clients feel guilt free as they actually haven’t had sex with a real person and therefore don’t have to lie to their partner. … Robot sex is safer sex, free from the constraints, precautions and uncertainties of the real deal.
———————- End excerpt ———————-
Lauren Davis at i09 asks the small questions. She doesn’t ask about the extent to which men — and perhaps women — consider sex with robots an acceptable substitute for more complex human relationships.
… would spouses view sex with a robotic partner as cheating, or as a form of masturbation akin to using a vibrator? Would people be more open and honest about paying for sex with robots than they are about paying for sex with humans? If robotic prostitutes could be program specifically for female pleasure, would we see equality between men and women patronizing these automated brothels?
Porn (hard- & soft-core) often drives technology
Sexbots as the vanguard of the robot industry repeats an old pattern. From the early days of modern era, sex-related industries have been an early adopter of technology. Their revenue often provided the funds for the developers of new tech, and fueled its development. Oddly, no matter how often repeated, it always surprises. These articles explain this history.
Some technologies for whom porn fueled its early development: microfiche (late 1800’s), bulletin board systems (first generation internet; early 1990s), e-commerce (1990’s), streaming video (early 1990s), webcams (~1995), subtitles and closed captioning for the hearing impaired, digital cameras, cable television, and video cassette recorders. Also printing and photography. For a fun version turn (as always) to Cracked.com: “5 Ways Porn Created the Modern World“.
For a more scholarly review, see “Pornography, Video, and the Internet” by Jonathan Coopersmith, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Spring 2000 (here’s a CNN story about his work). Just to be clear about the relationship see “Pornography Drives Technology” by Peter Johnson, Federal Communications Law Journal, November 1996. Excerpt:
“When new media offer new markets, porn spies them quickly and rushes to fill them, like an amoeba extruding a new pseudopod where its skin is thinnest. …
While the image of a brand-new pseudopod occupied the happy part of my inner matter, I still found the conclusion of his rather interesting study couldn’t be deflowered: “Far from viewing cyberpornographers as pariahs, society would do well to view them as mountain men and women in the mold of Jedediah Smith, who discovered and opened the passes of the Rockies for entire families to follow west.”
See these portents of the future…
- “Sexbot slaves” by Leah Reich at Aeon, 6 June 2014 — “Thanks to new technology, sex toys are becoming tools for connection; will sexbots reverse that trend?”
- “Would You Have Sex With a Robot? The Age of the Sexbot Is Fast Approaching” by Lynn Stuart at AlterNet, 18 August 2014 — “Some experts predict a not-so-distant future of human-robot sex …and love.”
- “Sex Dolls That Talk Back”, New York Times, 11 June 2015.
- “Artificial intelligence: coming to a sexbot near you” by Aaron Krumins at ExtremeTech, 15 June 2015.
- “Sex with robots to be ‘the norm’ in 50 years, expert claims” by David Watkinson in the UK Mirror, 4 August 2015 — “People may also begin to fall in love with their virtual reality partners.”
For More Information
- The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee.
- Journalists reporting the end of journalism as a profession.
- Journalists warn us about the coming revolution, but we don’t listen — Reporting the penetration of robots into many fields.
- Automation hits the professions. Most remain delusionally confident, so far.
Visions of the future (often disturbing)
Two trailers, showing Hollywood’s first glances into this future, and testimony from an early adopter. They’re all disturbing, in different ways.