Robot Love: Why romance with machines is a foregone conclusion
One of the big robotics storylines of 2018, at least in the mainstream press, was the arrival of multiple sex robots on the market. Most of these take a female form, anthropomorphic fantasies like Synthea Amatus’s Samantha and RealBotix’s Harmony, which have raised eyebrows and prompted international coverage, spurred in no small part by boisterous founders and burgeoning rivalries.
Robot brothels, meanwhile, have popped up in Toronto and Paris, and another was barred from doing business in Houston. Pontificators have pontificated about whether this is a good thing or a sign of a society on the skids, and much of the criticism has (rightly, in my opinion) focused on how these robots represent women, both in appearance and as passive objects of desire. Almost like clockwork, “male” robots with bionic penises are now on their way.
This was inevitable, of course. The sex tech industry is worth $30B, and sex has long been a driver of technological innovation, from King Edward VII’s kinky sex chair and network connected sex toys with serious security flaws to new forms of participatory VR porn.
The current spate of sex robots are just that, devices for fantasy-fullfilment and physical pleasure, and the technology, frankly, isn’t that much more compelling than non-robotic sex dolls. But a day is no doubt coming when a robot will leap across the Uncanny Valley and pass muster as a thinking and thoughtful companion. We often use words like “love” and “obsessed” to describe our connection with gadgets, but from a human standpoint is it even possible to love a machine the same way we can love another person?
A body of literature on the subject is emerging from the fields of behavioral science and human-robot interaction. A book by David Levy called Love and Sex with Robots deeply and convincingly explores the subject. In 2015, Elizabeth Phillips, Ph.D., now assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership and in the Warfighter Effectiveness Research Center (WERC) at the U.S. Air Force Academy, gave a talk on robot intimacy at Orlando Nerd Nite and The Smithsonian’s Future is Here Festival in Washington, D.C. that drew in part on Levy’s book and remains the smartest concise exploration of the subject I’ve heard.
Professor Phillips argues there will be an inevitable leap to love and sex with robots, but to understand why, we have to understand how humans form relationships with people and how they fall in love. This is the realm of Attachment theory, first conceived to describe the relationship between infants and at least one primary caregiver. The theory holds that there’s an evolutionary advantage for human infants to attach to a caregiver early in life for comfort and security. Notably, attachment does not have to be reciprocal, though it can be.
TEN REASONS WE FALL IN LOVE
The theory extends to adult relationships, which is born out by the observation that infants who don’t attach to a caregiver early have a difficult time forming interpersonal relationships later in life. But that doesn’t fully explain the mechanisms of love, the how and the why people actually fall in love with another person. That subject is the realm of a large body of social psychology research, and the general consensus is that there are 10 primary reasons people fall in love. (Dr. Phillips points out this is often represented as 10 + 1, since all of the reasons we fall in love are predicated on physical proximity to another person.)
The ten reasons include things like similarity, exclusiveness, filling needs, and arousal (for a complete list, check out this article). The question Phillips proposes is: Can robots fill the 10 + 1 reasons for humans?
There’s a preponderance of reasons to believe the answer is resoundingly yes. First, there are certain times in life when attachment to people moves to attachment to items. These so-called security attachments will be familiar to parents; my kid has two (!) blankets he takes everywhere. But security attachments go beyond the Linus syndrome and extend into adulthood. Computers in particular are excellent at serving as attachment figures. They’re portable, accessible, aid our exploration of the world, and offer comfort in the form of connections. These coincide with reasons people fall in love with other people.
Don’t buy it? Consider your smartphone. Now consider a day without your smartphone after it’s been lost. Many people would feel naked, vulnerable, oddly isolated. In a word, lonely.
Now consider robots. Phillips points out that robots are already serving comforting roles. The category of home robotics still hasn’t extended far beyond robot vacuum cleaners, but in settings like hospitals and senior care facilities there’s significant experimentation around companion bots that can brighten days and lift spirits while performing basic care needs.
There’s also the increasing “realness” of robots to consider. Phillips points out we may be coming out of the Uncanny Valley as robotics designers make increasingly lifelike robots that feel less creepy than human simulacrums of just a couple years ago. That means robots are becoming increasingly convincing as they pass for human.
Couple that with the fact that people are already demonstrating a preference for artificial relationships. Phillips cites a Japanese craze among the Otaku subculture of playing dating video games in which players establish relationships with computer characters. It sounds weird, but given what we know about Attachment theory it’s not all that different from the Tomagotchi craze that’s more familiar here in the U.S. (There’s even a so-called Tomagotchi effect to describe human attachment to a machine.)
Social acceptability is one of the 10 + 1 reasons people fall in love, and there, too, there’s a good case that robot affection is in the offing. In the U.S., polling suggests changing views of sexuality and greater permissiveness of sexual relationships that fall outside a narrow heterosexual norm. When talking about relationships with robots, reactions are often reflexive and negative, but there’s good reason to suspect that’s going to change.
The missing piece of all this is emotional intelligence, some sense that there’s an understanding ‘other’ out there who gets us and reciprocates our feelings. The big question is whether we’ll ever accept that robots, which we know to be artificial, can offer that comfort.
But we’re not as demanding or filial to strict notions of reality as we may want to think. Phillips points out that when researchers ask people who visit brothels why they go and what they get out of it, one oft-cited reason is a sense of reciprocated connection from another person. It’s not that the people going to brothels believe, intellectually, that the sex worker they’re visiting is infatuated with them; it’s that it doesn’t really matter so long as the fantasy is plausibly maintained. We have emotional buttons, and even in a transparent transaction scenario they’re easily pushed.
Computers, of course, are becoming much more emotionally intelligent and have adopted all kinds of strategies to push our emotional buttons. Home assistants are able to respond to us with quirks of simulated personality and even make us chuckle with unexpected jokes or insights. More sophisticated machines like Sophia have caused a stir for giving lifelike live performances that seem to exhibit improvisation and personality.
Taken together, all of this points to a clear conclusion: We may be much closer to seeing human-robot affection than we realize.
SOURCE: ZDNet, Greg Nichols
Americans are bored with their sex lives
Are you having boring sex? You’re not alone.
Forty-five percent of Americans think their sex life is stuck in a rut, according to new research.
A further seven in 10 of those studied admitted that they could use a drastic boost in excitement when it comes to getting down between the sheets.
The study, conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with PinkCherry, explored the sexual routines and habits of 2,000 Americans and uncovered that a whopping 62 percent rely on the exact same positions each time they do the deed.
No wonder then that many an American is thinking about spicing things up.
But three in five people also said thinking about experimenting with new sexual positions is something they’ve considered to try and add some excitement to their typical sexual routines.
For those who say they have mixed it up in the bedroom, another go-to option is having sex in different rooms — practiced by half of respondents.
Incorporating sex toys into the mix was popular among 41 percent of those surveyed.
In fact, four in five of those surveyed say they have thought about using a sex toy — with half of those who have thought about the idea of using a sex toy actually going on to experiment with one in the bedroom.
Sex toys can be used any time of year to help spark excitement in people’s sex lives but it appears that Valentine’s Day is a special day — with a quarter of Americans polled saying they plan on using a sex toy on Feb. 14, either with a partner or solo.
“When using a sex toy with a partner, does that mean that you aren’t good enough? The reality is that bringing sex toys into your sex life is an added bonus to an already amazing experience, like a cherry on top (pun intended),” explains Daniel Freedman, PinkCherry CEO.
“Once they try a toy that rubs their partner the right way, they feel more confident to try new things in bed more often.”
While sex toys are a great way to spice things up in the bedroom, it doesn’t necessarily mean doing so is easy.
In fact, when it comes to really making things more entertaining in between the sheets, 39 percent reveal they are embarrassed about using a sex toy for the first time.
Another 35 percent admit to feeling anxious, while a further 18 percent are intimidated by the whole experience.
But it’s all these feelings that are limiting pleasurable sexual experiences among Americans.
It turns out that three in 10 of those studied admitted to feeling self-conscious in bed and lamenting their comfort level (or lack thereof) with their own bodies as a reason for avoiding sex toys in the bedroom.
However, of the 50 percent of Americans who have used a sex toy, 41 percent reveal that sex toys can actually help make a relationship stronger.
It turns out that those surveyed are more likely to try out a sex toy for the first time with someone they’ve been in a long-term relationship with (52 percent) — or even by themselves for a solo sexual session (49 percent).
Just 17 percent of respondents revealed that they’d be willing to experiment with a sex toy early on in a relationship and 19 percent would do so with a new partner.
“We at PinkCherry.com are on a mission to bust the myth that using a sex toy isn’t normal. If sex toys were only for certain types of people, would it be a $15 billion a year global industry? Sex toys are just another way to make orgasm easier and faster, same as how we use tools and technology in all other aspects of our lives,” Freeman said.
“Go for it, start exploring sex toys, and have fun!”
SOURCE: New York Post; SWNS, Zoya Gervis
Digisexuality is stepping out of the closet. Keep an open mind
Sex as we know it is about to change.
We are already living through a new sexual revolution, thanks to technologies that have transformed the way we relate to each other in our intimate relationships. But we believe that a second wave of sexual technologies is now starting to appear, and that these are transforming how some people view their very sexual identity.
People we refer to as “digisexuals” are turning to advanced technologies, such as robots, virtual reality (VR) environments and feedback devices known as teledildonics, to take the place of human partners.
In our research, we use the term digisexuality in two senses. The first, broader sense is to describe the use of advanced technologies in sex and relationships. People are already familiar with what we call first-wave sexual technologies, which are the many things that we use to connect us with our current or prospective partners. We text each other, we use Snapchat and Skype, and we go on social apps like Tinder and Bumble to meet new people.
These technologies have been adopted so widely, so quickly, that it is easy to miss what a profound effect they have had on our intimate lives.
It is fascinating to study how people use technology in their relationships. Not surprisingly, in our research we can already see people displaying different attachment styles in their use of technology. As with their human relationships, people relate to their technology in ways that may be secure, anxious, avoidant or some (often disorganized) combination of the three.
There is a second, narrower sense, in which we use the term digisexuals for people whose sexual identity is shaped by what we call second-wave sexual technologies.
These technologies are defined by their ability to offer sexual experiences that are intense, immersive and do not depend on a human partner. Sex robots are the second-wave technology people are most familiar with. They don’t exist yet, not really, but they have been widely discussed in the media and often appear in movies and on television. Some companies have previewed sex robot prototypes, but these are nothing close to what most people would consider a proper sexbot. They are also incredibly creepy.
There are several companies, such as the Real Doll company, working on developing realistic sexbots. But there are a few technical hurdles they have yet to overcome. Truly interactive artificial intelligence is developing slowly, for instance, and it is proving difficult to teach a robot to walk. More interestingly, some inventors have begun experimenting with innovative, non-anthropomorphic designs for sexbots.
Meanwhile, VR is progressing rapidly. And in the sex industry, VR is already being used in ways that go beyond the passive viewing of pornography. Immersive virtual worlds and multi-player environments, often coupled with haptic feedback devices, are already being created that offer people intense sexual experiences that the real world possibly never could.
Investigative journalist Emily Witt has written about her experience with some of these technologies in her 2016 book, Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love.
There is compelling evidence that second-wave technologies have an effect on our brains that is qualitatively different from what came before.
MIT professor Sherry Turkle and others have done studies on the intensity of the bond people tend to form with what she calls “relational artifacts” such as robots. Turkle defines relational artifacts as “non-living objects that are, or at least appear to be, sufficiently responsive that people naturally conceive themselves to be in a mutual relationship with them.” Immersive VR experiences also offer a level of intensity that is qualitatively different from other sorts of media.
In a lecture at the Virtual Futures Forum in 2016, VR researcher Sylvia Xueni Pan explained the immersive nature of VR technology. It creates what she describes as a placement and plausibility illusion within the human brain.
As a result of its real-time positioning, 3D stereo display and its total field of view, the user’s brain comes to believe that the user is really present. As she says: “If situations and events that happen in VR actually correlates to your actions and relates personally to you, then you react towards these events as if they were real.”
As these technologies develop, they will enable sexual experiences that many people will find just as satisfying as those with human partners, or in some cases more so.
We believe that in the coming decades, as these technologies become more sophisticated and more widespread, there will be an increasing number of people who will choose to find sex and partnership entirely from artificial agents or in virtual environments.
And as they do, we will also see the emergence of this new sexual identity we call digisexuality.
SEXUALITY AND STIGMA
A digisexual is someone who sees immersive technologies such as sex robots and virtual reality pornography as integral to their sexual experience, and who feels no need to search for physical intimacy with human partners.
Marginal sexual identities almost invariably face stigma, and it is already apparent that digisexuals will be no exception. The idea of digisexuality as an identity has already received strong negative reactions from many commentators in the media and online.
We should learn from the mistakes of the past. Society has stigmatized gays and lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, consensually non-mongamous people and practitioners of bondange/discipline-dominance/submission-sadomasochism (BDSM).
Then, as time goes on, we have gradually learned to be more accepting of all these diverse sexual identities. We should bring that same openness to digisexuals. As immersive sexual technologies become more widespread, we should approach them, and their users, with an open mind.
We don’t know where technology is going, and there are definitely concerns that need to be discussed — such as the ways in which our interactions with technology could shape our attitudes towards consent with our human partners.
Our research addresses one specific piece of the puzzle: the question of how technology impacts sexual-identity formation, and how people with technologically based sexual identities may face stigma and prejudice. Yes, there are dangers. But whips and paddles can hurt too.
SOURCE: Fast Company, Neil McArthur and Markie Twist