What if the key to in­ti­macy lies with robots?

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Kate Sloan

Samantha is one of the most ad­vanced robots of her kind. Ac­cord­ing to her cre­ator, “As you in­ter­act with her, she gets to know you and syn­chro­nises with you so you cli­max to­gether” — her “cli­maxes” be­ing au­dio sim­u­la­tions of a hu­man or­gasm. The busty, wide-eyed doll costs a cool 6,000 eu­ros ($9,500) and can re­spond to sim­ple ques­tions, such as “What time is it?” or “Does this turn you on?” Hu­manoid sex toys have ex­isted for hun­dreds of years, from an­thro­po­mor­phic cloth fig­ures made by sev­en­teen­th­cen­tury Euro­pean sailors to the open-mouthed blow-up dolls found in nov­elty shops to­day. Un­til re­cently, the fig­ures we took to bed looked un­mis­tak­ably like inan­i­mate ob­jects. But to­day’s ad­vanced mod­els are made of ma­te­ri­als such as silicone or elas­tomer, a stretchy poly­mer that can look re­mark­ably life­like. What’s more, a few com­pa­nies around the world — such as Abyss Cre­ations in Cal­i­for­nia, Ai-tech in China, and Synthea Ama­tus, the Span­ish com­pany be­hind Samantha — equip their dolls with in­ter­ac­tive ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. It’s like Ap­ple’s Siri, if she had a body and were prone to dirty talk. These “sexbots” can’t move around on their own, but they can give com­pli­ments and moan on com­mand. As they in­ter­act with their owner (or part­ner) over time, they adapt their sex­ual pref­er­ences and re­sponses. Within the next cen­tury, these robots may be wo­ven into the fab­ric of our sex­ual cul­ture—as com­mon as Play­boy in the six­ties or the vi­bra­tor to­day. Few of the sexbots cur­rently on the mar­ket have a spe­cific “or­gasm” fea­ture, but of those that do, the mech­a­nism seems ob­vi­ously de­signed for het­ero­sex­ual men’s en­joy­ment, with lit­tle ground­ing in re­al­ity. Ac­cord­ing to her in­ven­tor, Sergi San­tos, Samantha, who has a pen­e­tra­ble vagina and mouth, re­sponds when “the G spot and also the breasts” are stim­u­lated. In a video pub­lished late last year, San­tos demon­strated the robot’s “sex mode”: he slid a fin­ger into her mouth, grabbed her breasts, and pressed the spot where her cli­toris would be — like ring­ing a door­bell. She wailed in­creas­ingly loudly. He touched her gen­i­tals briefly, but it was for nowhere near the min­i­mum fif­teen min­utes of cli­toral stim­u­la­tion ex­perts say women of­ten need. If this trend of poorly repli­cated in­ter­course con­tin­ues, robots could re­in­force the same mis­con­cep­tions in­tro­duced by pornog­ra­phy, which of­ten de­picts rough or vi­o­lent sex with­out ac­com­pa­ny­ing dis­cus­sions of con­sent and bound­aries. Hard-core movies, such as Deep Throat, the sem­i­nal 1972 flick fea­tur­ing count­less ex­plicit oral sex scenes, teach view­ers that women should get their plea­sure from what gives men plea­sure. These films have be­come such a key source of in­for­ma­tion in North Amer­ica that some ex­perts now rec­om­mend teach­ing “porn lit­er­acy” in schools: teenagers shouldn’t ex­pect their first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences to nec­es­sar­ily in­volve the power dy­nam­ics of main­stream porn. While porno­graphic films can serve to en­ter­tain and tit­il­late, re­search has also linked their use to sex­ual dys­func­tion and lower lev­els of trust be­tween lovers. In par­tic­u­lar, the in­dus­try’s em­pha­sis on vagi­nal in­ter­course — an act that, alone, brings less than a quar­ter of women to cli­max—in­stead of a broader def­i­ni­tion of sex has fur­ther widened the “or­gasm gap,” the phe­nom­e­non (sup­ported by stud­ies and sur­veys) in which men or­gasm from sex more of­ten than women do. To­day, fem­i­nist porn, which is of­ten pro­duced by women and shows peo­ple across the gen­der spec­trum ex­pe­ri­enc­ing plea­sure, has emerged as a genre that cel­e­brates con­sent and agency. The vastly male-dom­i­nated sexbot in­dus­try would ben­e­fit from fol­low­ing suit: cre­at­ing robots that teach hu­mans how to au­then­ti­cally please one an­other. There could be a per­sonal el­e­ment to this de­vel­op­ment, too: in a fu­ture where dif­fer­ent pro­to­types ex­ist and have spe­cific, well-known tastes, a woman could de­scribe her­self as en­joy­ing, for ex­am­ple, firm G spot stim­u­la­tion like Samantha and gen­tle breast ca­resses like Har­mony, an­other brand. Some find it hard to ask for what they want in bed; it might be eas­ier with cul­tural touch­stones to point to. A more di­verse pool of de­sign­ers could also cre­ate bet­ter sexbots for women and peo­ple who iden­tify as non-bi­nary, which, as Gabrielle Moss points out in Bus­tle, an on­line mag­a­zine, are woe­fully un­der­served mar­kets — just as they were, un­til re­cently, for pornog­ra­phy. “Sex robots could elim­i­nate the guilt many women feel when ask­ing their part­ners to per­form the kinds of repet­i­tive ac­tions that make them or­gasm,” Moss says. With uni­ver­sal plea­sure in mind, robots could ac­tu­ally close the or­gasm gap — just not in the way we might have ex­pected. Be­fore that can hap­pen, we will need to em­brace the idea of sex with some­thing that sounds like Siri.

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