The sexbots are coming. But we won’t prepare for them.

Summary: Sexbots are coming, part of 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 is the first of my posts about this future, posted three years ago.

“{The arrival of sexbots} will blow up the world. It will make crack cocaine look like decaffeinated coffee.”
— Anonymous (source here).

Realbotix - head of a sexbot
Realbotix – head of a sexbot.

The increased availability and greater verisimilitude of porn has already affected society, providing alternatives for men (and perhaps women) to assuming the burdens of marriage. Those are just foreshocks to the coming of sexbots. Much more powerful than porn, coming with ever-falling prices.  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 ———————-

How will women respond?

The battle to ban (or severely regulate) sexbots will mark the maximum advance of radical feminism, the point at which widespread opposition halts their increasing grasp of society. So far most prefer not to contemplate the radical effects of affordable sexbots with even minimal functionality. For example, Lauren Davis at i09 asks the small questions typical of articles about sexbots. 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?

Sexbot

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.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the 3rd Industrial Revolution now under way, about romance, about women and gender, and especially these about sexbots.

  1. Our scary future: sexbots are coming, powering the ‘sexodus’.
  2. A look at sexbots, prototypes of a radically different future for society.
  3. Technology will shape our society as porn and sexbots destroy 21st century marriage.
  4. Experts look at the future of sexbots and society, but can’t see it.
  5. Reluctant recognition that sexbots are coming.

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.

Her (2013).

Ex Machina.

18 thoughts on “The sexbots are coming. But we won’t prepare for them.

  1. A better question that no one asks is why? Why would a healthy man even consider a sexbot / AI. That is the question people should ask. The answer is The trailer for “Her” is spot on. I have always said it isn’t about sex, it is the companionship and love that men don’t get from women. I would buy that today.

    In addition, the feminists may stop the robot, but cant stop a non sexual computer program. Yes once the AI or AI and robot come out women will be left alone (apparently just like they want).

    As for women adopting them I doubt it. The AI, maybe. But why spend $10K on a robot that works as well as a $50 vibrator?

    1. Sven,

      “A better question that no one asks is why?”

      You must be kidding. That’s an often asked question, and probably has been for millennia. Why do men masturbate, use port, use prostitutes (i.e., quicky in an ally or car, 15 minutes in a brothel). I don’t know what the answer is. It doesn’t matter for the subject of this post. These drives exist. Modern feminism appears to be increasingly locking out a large segment of men (see yesterday’s post). Sexbots provide an alternative.

    2. Yes, I agree. I really cannot imagine finding a bot in the least satisfying sexually. But then, I have never found the idea of a prostitute in the least appealing. Maybe I am in a sexual minority in this?

      Perhaps it would depend on how closely the bot counterfeits a real person in other ways, dunno, that is very hard to imagine. Even then, the idea of relating to a machine in other contexts as if it were a person, that strikes me as utterly weird and rather disturbing. Cannot imagine doing it.

  2. I’m reminded of several things.

    Roxy Music track from the 70s, “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”. Which I listened to again some weeks ago, for the first time for a while. Still think it’s one the best Roxy tracks…

    Ray Bradbury short story “Marionettes Inc.

    Automata (2014) – See IMDB.

    Robot and Frank – See IMDB.

    Finally, there’s that scene from Terminator 2, the one that goes “Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one that measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.” Of course it could equally be referring to mothers being replaced. But it catches the zeitgeist…

    Of course the last four aren’t dealing with sex-bots but they’re path finding to something else entirely, a possible conclusion of the ‘gender war’. We all find robot companions to suit our particular physical and personality tastes. Why settle for less than perfection. There, it’s even got a tag-line.

    Depressing, but IMO inevitable given past experience and current trajectory.

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for the cites! The films look intriguing. Bradbury’s short is thought-provoking, as usual.

      Still (and this might reflect my lack of imagination), these are standard sci fi futures. None are so radical as the possible effect of sexbots, imo.

    1. Christopher,

      That’s an important point to remember! This is just one facet of a far larger process.

      Also, I added a link to a PDF of “Progeny” in your comment.

    2. A follow-up not to Christopher’s comment.

      “It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand — at the whims of climate and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines will deal with them …”
      — From Arthur C. Clarke’s story “The Evitable Conflict” (1950).

  3. No discussion of the porn/technology intersection is complete without this, the most famous of all of the songs on “Avenue Q” (animated using “World of Warcraft” for good measure): “The Internet is for porn.

    I didn’t want to believe it when I first heard it (I was still Mormon at the time) but I see now that the video was right, and it was trying to tell me what you and Peter Johnson are saying: porn is the trailblazer of technological progress, and we all benefit from what comes after it.

  4. Dear Larry,

    While I think sexbots will be disruptive, is there really a ton of reason to believe they’ll be super disruptive? We’ve had plastic vaginas (fleshlights) since the mid to late 90’s, did you even notice? Society hasn’t crumbled since then even if it has decayed a lot, and most of that is due to other reasons(frequently highlighted in this blog).
    I would imagine that sexbots would cost a whole lot – at least at first – and they’d be competing with plastic vaginas that sell for ~$50. The sexbots will get cheaper, but so will the fleshlights.

    On the emotional intimacy end(at least as important to men as the sex, more frankly), are we sure any sort of robot could ever feel natural? We’re a few years into robot phone operators and already businesses advertise having humans to receive you. Just food for thought. Also go watch Chobits, you can skip a lot of the earlier ones where Chii just messes around

    1. Fighty,

      (1) “We’ve had plastic vaginas (fleshlights) since the mid to late 90’s”

      Magnitudes matter. Humanity had artificial lights since the invention of fire. Yet electric lights radically changed the rhythms of life. We had animal transportation for 5 millennia, but the invention of mechanical transport radically changed society — in several waves. We had porn since the first cave drawings, yet internet porn (high quality, cheap, private, interactive) appears to be having a large effect on society (too early to say how much).

      A synthetic part does not provide the same functionality as a synthetic person containing that part. Most of sex is in the mind.

      (2) “{sexbots will} be competing with plastic vaginas that sell for ~$50.”

      Apparently you don’t see the difference between the two. Enough people will see the difference to make it a mass market.

      (3) “I would imagine that sexbots would cost a whole lot – at least at first”

      Raising a human being costs a lot. But a prostitute can be had for 15 minutes cheaply, and for a few hours at a price affordable to most. More importantly, the price at first makes little difference. There will be early adopters who buy them, starting sexbots down the price/volume curve that should be familiar to everyone by now.

      (4) “On the emotional intimacy end (at least as important to men as the sex, more frankly),”

      I suggest getting outside your bubble to test that theory. Chat with some streetwalkers who give quick blowjobs in a car for a few bucks, or quick intercourse in a alley. Visit a cheap brothel, where men line up for their 20 minutes. Talk to men for whom sexbots are a replacement for porn and masturbation. The range of human experience is far larger than you appear to realize.

  5. Sexbots have a ways to go still, but Feminists are already making a ruckus about this because they know the “alternatives” take the power away from women.

    I was watching one of those TV shows that counts down the top [insert number that ends in zero] scariest horror films of all time. They eventually got around to the original “Stepford Wives.” One female commentator admitted that one of the reasons why it was so creepy was because it made some women wonder what it would be like to be replaced. Well, guess what?

  6. This 1987 film is unjustly forgotten: Cherry 2000 (1987).

    From Wikipedia:

    “In the year 2017, the United States has fragmented into post-apocalyptic wastelands and limited civilized areas. One of the effects of the economic crisis is a decline in manufacturing, and heavy emphasis on recycling aging 20th-century mechanical equipment. Society has become increasingly bureaucratic and hypersexualized, with the declining number of human sexual encounters requiring contracts drawn up by lawyers prior to sexual activity. At the same time, robotic technology has made tremendous developments, and female androids (more properly, gynoids) are used as substitutes for wives.

    Business executive Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) owns a “Cherry 2000” gynoid as his wife. After she short-circuits during sex, Sam is told by a repairman that she is damaged beyond repair. A gynoid dealer tells Sam that the “Cherry 2000” model has since gone out of manufacture, and that the only remaining ones are in a defunct factory in “Zone 7”, a particularly dangerous, lawless area. With Cherry’s memory disk, Treadwell hires Edith “E” Johnson (Melanie Griffith), a tough tracker, to guide him to the factory.”

    Sounds familiar?

    1. Hermillion,

      It sounds interesting, but does not sound familiar. But this sentence does, a reminder that the people running Hollywood are either morons, or believe we’re morons (perhaps they are correct):

      “Producer Edward R. Pressman confessed that Cherry 2000’s combination of genres styles, and themes stumped promoters at Orion, resulting in its repeated shelving.”

  7. Late to this article but since no one else did I figured I’d bring up Futurama and their take on the introduction of sex bots. (well, make out bots according to the ’50s style government warning video about the evils of sex bots) Civilization ended. (not the only time, and yet it always bounced back) And then there’s Lars and the Real Girl for an interesting depiction of someone forming a relationship with their doll.

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