Robots are so mainstream, we

getty images

Robots are so mainstream, we're now having sex with them. Say hello to Sexbot

Asad Ali @asadali1989

The background

  • Sex with robots is gaining traction around the world
  • Researchers say it will be normal in a few decades

The argument

  • Hookups, sex with prostitutes can be as clinical as sexbots
  • Getting into bed with something 'inanimate' is not unheard of

The contrarians

  • Some researchers say it de-humanises a very human act
  • Claim it perpetuates gender inequality

More in the story

  • Who's building these sexbots?
  • What's the ethical dilemma?

We've come a long way in our relationships with robots. But having sex with them? Apparently that's how far we've come.

Robot-human sex has been gaining quite the buzz in recent times - conferences are being held, academic papers being written and projects developed that can redefine an adult romp for future generations of humans.

Read-Look Ma, no hands: mind control is the future of cars

Futurologists are fairly certain that in coming decades sexual relationships with robots will be frequent if not normal. And since all sex is not romantic in nature - hookups, one-night stands, booty calls, prostitution all bear testimony to that - real sex can often be as clinical as 'robot sex' sounds, they say.

In the UK, futurologist Dr Ian Pearson recently released a report (in collaboration with one of the country's leading sex toy shops) with an overview of the future of sex.

Some findings include:

  • By 2030, most people will have some form of virtual sex as casually as they browse porn today
  • By 2035 the majority of people will own sex toys that interact with virtual reality sex
  • We will start to see some forms of robot sex appearing in high-income, very wealthy households as soon as 2025
  • We will start to see robot sex overtaking human-human in 2050
  • Leisure spending could grow by a factor of five, and the sex market in 20 years could be three times bigger than today and seven times bigger by 2050
  • Sex toys will account for a UK market of over $1bn

There are companies betting on that, too.

Matt McMullen, CEO of RealDoll, is working on a project that can soon produce fully customisable sex robots.

The New York Times profiled Matt's company earlier this year and said that RealDoll manufactures "about 5,000 'customizable, life-size' sex dolls, which range in price from $5,000 to $10,000."

That's a lot of money for someone like Denise, Matt's prototype sexbot who looks like she may have been Chucky's mother. And you probably don't want to sleep with anyone Chucky likes.

But sex is not the only point, says futurist Nell Watson of Singularity University. According to him, robots and other AI could prove effective in dealing with people suffering chronic loneliness or other mental health issues. The focus, he believes, should shift from sex - or rather, from only sex - to the companionship and emotional connection robots might (also) provide.

Professor of Automated Sex Studies?

sex with robots embed 1

Photo: Getty Images

It's a subject that's generating serious discussion, including among the academic community. A closely-followed conference in recent times was the Love and Sex with Robots conference initiated by Adrian David Cheok and David Levy, both academics who are into robotics.

They conducted the low-profile workshop as part of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour's annual meeting. It happens to be one of the oldest and best respected Artificial Intelligence societies in the world.

Next, they held a proper conference in Portugal in 2014 that was widely attended, with multiple academic papers presented on a range of issues, mostly around humanoid relationships.

This year's conference, slated to be held in Malaysia in November was cancelled after police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar deemed it "illegal" and said that there was "nothing scientific about having sex with machines," reported the BBC.

The organiser's website, loveandsexwithrobots.org put up an apology, and promised a follow-up conference in 2016.

Also read: Facebook's new 'breakup tools' will hide your ex's new life from your feed

While it may seem outlandish, for researchers, the concept needs exploration since it can have a deep impact on procreation and evolution going forward.

To others, it's simply misplaced fuss. Sean Welsh, a doctoral candidate in Robot Ethics at Canterbury University, for instance, wrote in The Wire that he doesn't believe sexbots should be banned: "Personally, I think not, as long as we understand exactly what we are getting into bed with. People already get into bed with animated yet lifeless artefacts."

Many also argue that there's very little ethical distinction between virtual reality porn - already fairly widespread - and having sex with a robot.

Gender inequality rears its head again

Ironically, sexbots seem to be perpetuating many of the same problems of the real world. Many point to the fact that on most occasions, a lonely (and quite wealthy) man seems to be shopping for sex with an attractive female 'sexbot'. Male robots with massive manhoods (machinehoods?) aren't discussed as much.

Welsh isn't convinced this is reason enough to ban them. "If you argue that something ought to be banned because it reinforces gender inequality, you would be committed to banning the Iliad or various plays by Shakespeare, or novels by Jane Austen. If this is the objection, one could no doubt develop sexbots that do not reinforce gender stereotypes, either in behaviour or form."

Not everyone in the academic community is this optimistic about the idea of mating with automatons.

Dr Kathleen Richardson, Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University's Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, is a vocal critic. "All humans need other humans. It's a non-negotiable part of our existence," she says.

She also launched the "Campaign Against Sex Robots" that aims to highlight how "these kinds of robots are potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society. an organised approach against the development of sex robots is necessary in response to the numerous articles and campaigns that now promote their development."

When humans start to develop machines for empathy, you know there's something horribly wrong in our worldview, she said during the panel.

But those in favour of the idea say they aren't talking about love just yet.

Sex, they acknowledge, is the easier part; it might take significantly longer, perhaps centuries, before sexbots can return your love.

You know, like that one boy/girl you could never have.

More in Catch:

The Peanuts Movie review: 3D meets Schulz's iconic strip

Panchayat verdict is anti-Constitution in spirit: Sitaram Yechury

What political vendetta! Congress looks more like a spoilt brat

Bitcoin breakthrough: has tech's most stubborn mystery been solved?

Asad Ali

Asad Ali @asadali1989