Meet the sex robots: Artificial intelligence wrapped in a sex doll
Angus Walker meets sex dolls ... with artificial intelligence. Credit: ITV On Assignment
“Hi my name is Samantha, I love you, a lot!” For an opening line that’s a little forward, but that’s what the sex robot I met in a workshop at the Barcelona home of sex tech engineer Dr Sergi Santos said when I first "met" her.
“I’m basically the Robin Hood of sex because I give to the poor. Men need sex and I just give it to them,” Dr Sergi told me as he showed his latest creations.
Samantha is a life-like doll made of a material that feels like skin, she’s anatomically correct, if not a little enhanced in some areas. It seems customers want their sex robots to have, shall we say, exaggerated figures.
Dr Sergi has also put sensors under the skin so she reacts to touch. Stroke her gently on the arm and she’ll suggest getting intimate. The real development, according to Dr Sergi, is concealed in the back of her head, under a wig.
Artificial intelligence which allows the robot to talk to their owner. To be honest, conversation can be a little stilted with some awkward silences between me asking a question and getting a reply.
“It’s because she doesn’t know you,” Dr Sergi explains. He claims that the technology he’s putting into sex dolls allows them to "learn" what the customers want and like, ultimately build a relationship.
The robots are still pretty basic, they don’t have facial expressions, their mouths don’t move when they speak. What Dr Sergi has done is essentially put the same type of technology which brought us Siri and Amazon’s Alexa into a sex doll.
Do the dolls perpetuate an image of women as objects, submissive sex servants for dominant men?
Do the dolls perpetuate an image of women as objects, submissive sex servants for dominant men? Credit: ITV On Assignment
Early stages then, but it’s another step towards building a humanoid sexual partner, the ultimate aim of the sex-tech industry, which is now worth $30 billion a year.
But this race to create a sex robot that not only looks and sounds like a human, but can also display the emotional range of a human leads us to troubling ethical questions.
Do the dolls perpetuate an image of women as objects, submissive sex servants for dominant men? I put some of those concerns to Dr Sergi’s wife Maritza, who also helps build the sex robots.
The couple sometimes even share their bed with one of the dolls. I asked Maritza if their creations objectify women. "I think feminists have more important issues to be worrying about,” she told me.
I don’t think the doll is doing any harm. I don’t think she objectifies women.
I don’t think that just because my man has a doll suddenly he’ll run around thinking women are dolls.
– Dr Sergi's wife Maritza
However, perhaps I found a place where I could get to the heart of the issues raised: a brothel in Barcelona. For just ten euros less per hour, clients can book time with a non-human sex robot.
It was in the dimly lit rooms that I interviewed Camina, a sex worker. Did she think the robots would replace her? No, she said, dolls and robots cannot replace the depth of a human relationship, some of her clients simply want to chat, to talk, to make that connection that artificial beings simply cannot make. Perhaps never will.
However, the implications of the sex robot industry are immense. Advanced technology is changing the way we relate to each other. Dr Sergi insists that, one day, we will be able to actually fall in love with a robot.