Reluctant recognition that sexbots are coming

Summary: Slowly, reluctantly the media — educated, prosperous, liberal — begin to grapple with the coming sexbot revolution. Perhaps this recognition is sparked by the holobot seen in Blade Runner 2048 –non-corporal, and so non-threatening (and hence respectable) in Hollywood. As seen in this article from “Wired”, they see it coming but remain stuck on denial. Because they are written by the prosperous and beautiful, while sexbots will be used by other segments of society.

Realbotix - head of a sexbot

Love in the time of robots” by Alex Mar in Wired.

Today, the technical ability to produce a robot that truly looks and moves and speaks like a human remains well beyond our reach. Even further beyond our grasp is the capacity to imbue such a machine with humanness — that ineffable presence the Japanese call sonzai-kan. Because to re-create human presence we need to know more about ourselves than we do — about the accumulation of cues and micromovements that trigger our empathy, put us at ease, and earn our trust.

Someday we may crack the problem of creating artificial general intelligence — a machine brain that can intuitively perform any human intellectual task — but why would we choose to interact with it?

Ishi­guro believes that since we’re hardwired to interact with and place our faith in humans, the more humanlike we can make a robot appear, the more open we’ll be to sharing our lives with it. Toward this end, his teams are pioneering a young field of research called human-robot interaction.

A date with a robot

HRI is a hybrid discipline: part engineering, part AI, part social psychology and cognitive science. The aim is to analyze and cultivate our evolving relationship with robots. HRI seeks to understand why and when we’re willing to interact with, and maybe even feel affection for, a machine. And with each android he produces, Ishiguro believes he is moving closer to building that trust. …

As complex as we assume ourselves to be, our bonds with one another are often built on very ­little. Given all the time we now spend living through technology, not many of us would notice, at least at first, if the friend we were messaging were replaced by a bot. And humans do not require much to stir up feelings of empathy with another person or creature — even an object. In 2011 a University of Calgary test found that subjects were quick to assign emotions and intentions to a piece of balsa wood operated with a joystick. In other words, we are so hardwired for empathy that our brains are willing to make the leap to humanizing a piece of wood. It’s a level of animal instinct that’s slapstick-hilarious and a degree of vulnerability that’s terrifying. …

Sorbello talks about the desire for intimacy with androids — something he’s clearly thought a lot about. “Can you imagine what it would be like,” he asks, “to want to kiss a robot? To want to kiss that rubber, not-human flesh? There are people who have those kinds of desires. Imagine if you could run heat through its skin so that it feels not like cold rubber but warm to the touch? There are people who want to try things with that.” Human sexual and romantic relationships are unavoidably messy, he says, and many people would like to keep their lives simple — in which case a relationship with an android might be a solution. “I think this is the future,” he says. …

On Sorbello’s recommendation, I later read Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, a 2007 book by AI expert David Levy. In it he proposes that we are not far from a time (he suggests roughly the year 2050) when humans will desire robots as friends, sexual partners, even spouses — a premise he seems unnervingly OK with. It all comes down to our willingness to believe in the robot’s emotional life and desires. Designed with the physical proportions that its human owner prefers, the preferred voice timbre and eye color and personality type, and the ability to recall and riff on its owner’s personal stories and little jokes, android will captivate human. …

These are pretty radical ideas about human nature and intimacy, and yet I recognize the desire some might have to turn to an android for closeness, for companionship — for comfort when you’re far from home, maybe on the other side of the planet, on assignment for weeks at a time. And if someone provides you with a salve, why not take it? Most of us already allow technology to mediate what was once simple, direct human interaction — what really is the difference? And is that difference so essential to the experience of being human that it must be preserved?


Ms. Mar sees life from the top. How does it look from the bottom.

Alex Mar
Alex Mar. Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

“This will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).

Alex Mar is a talented and successful writer, author of the award-winning best-seller Witches of America (see her website). She is a beautiful young woman. Her analysis is brilliant and incisive. It’s a class-based view of the world, seen from the top.

But she shows little sympathy for the ugly, the socially inept, the losers of society — especially male. The lesser betas and the omega — the involuntarily celibate. Men for whom today companionship means porn, masturbation and prostitutes (in addition to booze, drugs, sports, and video games. Sexbots will give them new options. Just as did sex for chat lines, video rentals, and the internet. Vast fortunes will be made meeting these people’s needs.

Look further into the future, sexbots will gradually become more lifelike, offering increasing competition for women. Nobody wants to talk about that.

Let’s not get too excited. They’re not here yet.

“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 another perspective see “Erica – Man-Made“, a documentary by The Guardian, April 2017.

“Erica is 23. She has a beautiful, neutral face and speaks with a synthesised voice. She has a degree of autonomy – but can’t move her hands yet. Hiroshi Ishiguro is her ‘father’ and the bad boy of Japanese robotics. …Hiroshi Ishiguro and his colleague Dylan Glas are interested in what makes a human. Erica is their latest creation – a semi-autonomous android, the product of the most funded scientific project in Japan.”

Much of the article is bogus. See this debunking. Here is an especially bizarre description by roboticist Dylan Glas, co-designer of Erica, of a mechanical device with less sentience than a banana.

 “I think she is very excited to interact with people. I think she really looks forward to that all the time. And I think she’s very interested in learning about the outside world because she doesn’t get a chance to see it really.”

Exaggeration by innovators and journalists is commonplace. But let’s not let that blind us to the massive changes sexbots will make to society as they grow more lifelike.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about romanceabout sexbots, about women and gender, and especially these…

  1. Tech creates a social revolution with unthinkable impacts that we prefer not to see.
  2. Three unmentionable insights about people, free from Ashley Madison.
  3. Our scary future: sexbots are coming, powering the ‘sexodus’.
  4. A look at sexbots, prototypes of a radically different future for society.
  5. Technology will shape our society as porn and sexbots destroy 21st century marriage.
  6. Experts look at the future of sexbots and society, but can’t see it.

Books about the coming revolution

Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships
Available at Amazon.
My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves
Available at Amazon.

35 thoughts on “Reluctant recognition that sexbots are coming”

    1. Ivan,

      Lots of people — a substantial fraction of the male population — prefer or even like to be monks, or other forms of celibacy. Others prefer combinations of masturbation, porn, hookers, and x-rated games (I assume there are such things; tell me if there aren’t so I can raise money to make them).

      Variety makes the world work.

    2. There are such things as X-rated games, in a range of styles and flavors. I believe this is a place where crowdfunding works out great, because someone with a game catering to a particular fantasy can patreon up enough money to support themselves and hire an artist or code assistant. Only in America!

      Well, and Japan. Also in Japan.

  1. How much are these things going to cost? Obviously consumer goods get cheaper as they get more ubiquitous, but you can’t cloud-distribute a sex bot, especially if they go the route of “same price point, more features” rather than “same features, lower price point.”

    If they’re made available in brothel-type environments then it seems like you’ve just put hookers out of work. If they become full “companion” replacements – able to do many of the things one might expect or hope from a live-in girlfriend or wife – then you have created Asimov’s vision of a universal robot.

    Speaking of Asimov, he wrote about this – but unlike most modern interpretations, his visions were always of women finding robots as replacement husbands. I don’t know what that means, but I always found those stories compelling.

    1. That said I do realize this is a digression from the possible impact on sexual and interpersonal relations. (Though I would be curious if anyone other than Asimov has looked at it from the women’s perspective.)

      I think there are a lot of lonely people who it would satisfy. I think there are also some who aren’t looking just for sex, or sex+companionship+light housework, but for someone to bully. That might require another generation of software. Perhaps we would be better off if the people with those problems could “get it out of their system” on robots – though it would suck for the robot. (A robot who can realistically react to being bullied seems like it would be getting dangerously close to personhood.) It might also break the generational chain of abuse.

      There would also be the question of how the robot interacts with you. A gentle, caring, intelligent coach for all sorts of small improvements in one’s daily life could be a blessing in a thousand ways. (Like Sarah Conner’s assessment of the Terminator’s fitness as a father figure for John Conner.) I don’t know if it would outsell a robot that slavishly obeyed you and told you you were absolutely right at all times. This one might end up getting some kind of regulation.

      1. SF,

        All interesting thoughts. But those robots are beyond anything that can be built for the foreseeable future.

        But some fetishes might be satisfied by doing it to even a very basic (i.e., not very lifelike) robot.

    2. SF,

      We can only guess such things. Perhaps young men will buy sexbots instead of hot cars.

      “but you can’t cloud-distribute a sex bot”

      You can’t cloud distribute any material good. But our lives overflow with them.

      ” of “same price point, more features” rather than “same features, lower price point.”

      Those are not exclusive paths. Many goods do both. There is a thousand dollar iphone X and basic ones for $130.

      ” it seems like you’ve just put hookers out of work.”

      That’s too binary. They’ll just be competition for hookers. People have more features than bots (at least for the foreseeable future). Today men can get a $50 encounter with a hooker or spend $5,000 for a night with a high-end one. Bots will be just another product in the mix.

      “If they become full “companion” replacements – able to do many of the things one might expect or hope from a live-in girlfriend or wife”

      A simple or early version of that appears in Blade Runner 2048. But it’s unlikely to happen by 2048, at least as a cheap mass-market product.

      “then you have created Asimov’s vision of a universal robot.”

      Yes, but now you are talking “Star Trek” futures. Too far away for anything but fiction.

      “his visions were always of women finding robots as replacement husbands.”

      Early sci-fi authors were mostly prudes, and probably found that less upsetting. In this, as in so much else, Ray Bradbury was the rule-breaker. On of the stories in the Martian Chronicles describes a man who built robots to replace his dead daughter and wife.

    3. If there is a genuine market of large quantity for these companions, I think they would come sooner than you think. (Personally, I think this market, while not tiny, is not enormous – at this stage. When they start being able to do household chores, watch out!)

      It’s interesting to consider what having even basic “acceptable targets” for such impulses would do for both the bearers of those impulses and their probable victims. I am not up to date on all the latest literature, but what I have seen suggests that – assuming that the people with such impulses accepted that they had them, and were both willing and able to purchase outlets in such a way, both of which are pretty big assumptions – it might just make those impulses worse.

    4. “I think there are also some who aren’t looking just for sex, or sex+companionship+light housework, but for someone to bully. ”

      That’s a very insightful comment. Let’s give the control freaks robots to boss around, so they leave the rest of us alone! I often think that control freaks view other people as marionettes anyway, so maybe a robot will be right up their alley.

    5. Notorious: Yeah, but they might not be satisfied by that – after all, what’s the fun of controlling something that is meant to be controlled?

  2. “Ms. Mar sees life from the top. How does it look from the bottom?”

    Genius. Asking the real questions as always!

  3. If I was a goat in Afghanistan I’d be thrilled with this news. Just sayin.

    I can’t wait to read about the law suits about malfunctioning sexbots mutilating their partners.

      1. Gute: “I can’t wait to read about the law suits about malfunctioning sexbots mutilating their partners.”

        This eagerness to see people hurt is at best sad, perhaps imbalanced.

        Gute: “I recommend therapy for those who use sexbots.”

        Here Gute adopts a more common belief. There have always been people who get off (intellectually or otherwise) by controlling the private sexual life of others. Some enjoy doing so punitively. Examples are endless of people like Gute: Catholic Church’s condemnation of masturbation to the attempts to ban sale of sex toys and porn and sex chat lines and etc etc.

        As usual, some took their attempts to control others even farther. The ordering the chemical castration of Alan Turing for homosexual acts. Measures to to stop women from masturbation ranged from therapy to clitoridectomies (often done without their consent from the 1860s to the 1940s — details here and here).

        We will always have have people like Gute amongst us, seeking to control our private lives.

      2. Sorry got to stick up for Gute here. Shagging an inanimate object is pretty weird and the word ‘peverted’ does exist in the English language with negative connotatioms.

        You have to draw a line somewhere. It’s like all this fucking guff over transsexuals and their rights to be some third gender.This moronic debate is a reflection of the increasingly flacid society we are living in.

      3. Ivan,

        “Shagging an inanimate object is pretty weird and the word ‘peverted’ does exist in the English language with negative connotatioms.”

        Like dildos? I recommend taking your insight and sharing it at the nearest feminist meetings! Report back on your results.

    1. May you come to find the sweet fruits of compassion in this life or the next.

      Besides, anyone who is pursuing farm animals out of necessity rather than choice would no doubt be unable to afford a sex robot any time soon.

    2. “Shagging an inanimate object is pretty weird”

      Strictly speaking, many things people do are weird. It’s “weird” to extract insulin from an animal’s pancreas and inject it into a diabetic. It’s “weird” to seal yourself in a metal capsule and launch it into space. It’s “weird” to zap someone with electricity to restore normal heart function.

      We shouldn’t care whether something is weird, we should care whether it’s harmful or not.

  4. Sexbots make for a good headline and interesting reading, but there is so much more happening in the world of automation that will impact society in profound ways in the nearer future.

    Robotic Process Automation will replace millions of white collar jobs over the next few years. Given the choice do you prefer to work with a human being working from a script in ordering a product or getting an answer to a customer service question? Given the choice of working with an efficient online bot from Amazon or Google (maybe Apple and Microsoft will get there yet), particularly if the digital intelligence can predict your needs and suggest on point answers to questions you have not yet thought to ask, most of us will take the machine. Today millions of white collar workers fill routine information processing jobs that can be better performed with automated systems. In the coming decade a majority of these jobs will not exist.

    Much of the real work being done in automation is driven by shortages of skilled workers. For an example of where we are headed in manufacturing check out In logistics there are now dozens if not scores of mobile robots of varied configuration able to move pallets around warehouses and factories, sweep the floors and soon drive the trucks that will deliver goods to market. Healthcare will be transformed with AI based diagnostics tools that can accomplish data analysis tasks in the blink of an eye that would elude even the most accomplished Stanford or Harvard trained physician. And robots have increasingly invaded the battlefields of the world with the ability to become autonomous killing machines.

    While our political dialogue is being driven by ad hominem attacks between politicians and fear of the old story of international competition and protectionism, this revolution is transforming the daily lives of millions with little public understanding of what’s to come. It’s a global revolution. China has expressed a clear national commitment to be the world leader in the field. Thanks to Larry for continuing to bring to our attention the potential social impact of this revolution.

    1. John,

      ” but there is so much more happening in the world of automation that will impact society in profound ways in the nearer future.”

      Yes. For information about them, see the links to the 90+ posts on the “A New Industrial Revolution is Coming Page“.

      “Much of the real work being done in automation is driven by shortages of skilled workers. For an example of where we are headed in manufacturing check out”

      You mean to say the “totally bogus shortage of skilled workers.” Other than in a few small fields, wages are not rising faster than productivity. No relative price rise, no shortage. See the posts documenting this propaganda campaign.

    2. I think pornographic urges have done a lot more to shape society than you seem to think. The internet, for instance, certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if not for people’s desire for gratification.

      1. John,

        PAT is correct. See this from Technology will shape our society as porn and sexbots destroy 21st century marriage:

        …porn has been fueling the leading edge of technology for a long time.  Some technologies for whom porn fueled its early development: printing, photography, microfiche (late 1800’s), subtitles and closed captioning for the hearing impaired, cable television, and video cassette recorders, digital cameras, bulletin board systems (early 1990s first generation internet), streaming video (early 1990s), webcams (~1995),  e-commerce (mid to late 1990’s). Also For a fun version turn (as always) to “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) and “Pornography Drives Technology” by Peter Johnson, Federal Communications Law Journal, November 1996.

  5. The Man Who Laughs

    The tech to build these is now there, and we’ve helped to stoke demand because of changes in marriage and the sexual marketplace that we really didn’t think about at the time. And we aren’t thinking about the changes this will bring either. So these bots will be both cause and effect.

    It makes makes me think of a Radio Shack computer that I got as a gift back in the days. A TRS 80. It needed a floppy drive, and this was back when floppies were the size of dinner plates. These were uncommon, expensive, and not all that capable. There was no internet to connect to. And then all of a sudden…

    But this touches on how we continue our society, or fail to do so. And I have a feeling I’m looking at the TRS 80 of sexbots.

    1. FDW,

      Certainly genetic engineering is going to change everything, eventually. Lots of good science fiction about this, as good a source of predictions as any about something so far off and so radical!

    2. It’s Radical certainly, but It’s not that far off. I think there’s a strong chance that the Second Biological Revolutions “Eternal September” moment will happen in the next decade. And from Eternal September, it only took 14 years to get to the iPhone. I see Anti-Aging and general morphological freedom developing in a similar timeframe. It’s also why I’m not anywhere near as worried about the Transgender community.

  6. There are all kinds of hybrid possibilities too. You get a sexbot, she gets a sexbot. has wifi – use your imagination. Could be a great democratizer. Could be an envied/hated plaything of the rich. Could be strictly taboo. Could be shamelessly exploited for commerce (just do these little Turing tests for me, wontcha honey?)…

    I’m more concerned by the likelyhood that the value created by ordinary automation is badly managed –
    accumulates on top, worsens existing socioeconomic relations.

    1. Pete,

      (1) The future is, as always, difficult to see. We have a terrible track record at forecasting the effect of new tech. I think the “crack coke” analogy is the best we can do at this point.

      (2) “I’m more concerned by the likelyhood that the value created by ordinary automation is badly managed”

      That’s a big issue, for sure. But it is a widely anticipated one, which we have “solved” (somewhat) in the past. I suggest considering #1 before making those kind of confident forecasts. The unanticipated effects are often the big ones.

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