Technological advances in robotics have already changed the world, for better or for worse. Robots are helpers, they are competition in the workplace and they can be our friends ... but can they be more than friends? Many who follow the incredible growth and progress in both mechanical and artificial intelligence technology are saying yes.
Engineer and computer scientist Douglas Hines and his company, True Companion LLC, have created Roxxxy; a 60lb, 5' 7" sex robot with ever-improving, um, capabilities. Roxxxy was developed as an offshoot from Hines' line of healthcare robots which were designed to look after the elderly or infirm. Robotics in healthcare have increased sharply over the last few years to supplement the limited number of caretakers for aging baby boomers. From Paro the therapeutic robot seal, meant to calm patients with dementia and Alzheimer's, to Cody who gently bathes elderly patients at nursing homes, robots are hard at work every day
According to Hines, the healthcare market is an obvious and lucrative industry for robotics, "but there's a less-known [market] which is gaining more and more momentum which is the sex industry."
At first glance, a souped up, expensive humanoid sexual aide isn’t that impressive, as shops are already replete with vibrators and personal toys. What makes Roxxxy notable, however, is that the real goal is to provide humanoid companionship. "The life experience with a partner goes beyond [sex]" says Hines, "and that's really what we've gone for."
Yikes, ok someone please tell Wall-e that I'm already seeing a human girl ... this is getting awkward.
The ability to feel empathy defines us as humans and no machine, no matter how well engineered, will ever experience human emotion, right? Engineers like Hines are working around that obstacle by attempting to construct a robot sufficiently complex in its ability to mimic human sentience. Roxxxy isn't quite there yet, and this demonstration video from 2010 is just weird, but the model improvements continue and Hines claims that there is a healthy market for Roxxxy and her male counterpart, Rocky.
Today's wearable tech that can sense the behavior and bodily functions of the wearer, such as perspiration, body language, body heat, voice tonality, posture, movements, touch, etc. A realistic humanoid companion would have the capacity to simulate human interaction through some pre-programmed response to these stimuli from the partner/owner. Check how Apple’s Siri responds to simple vocal "I love you" inputs from a user.
David Levy, the author of "Love and Sex With Robots" (2008) thinks that the
programmed illusion of love is all that really matters. In an interview with the New York Times, Levy predicts that "Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans" by 2025. He sees this as a good thing for those who struggle with finding love or companionship in human interaction, and predicts that "artificial-emotion technologies" will eventually allow robots to be more emotionally available than the typical American human male. There are 10 factors, he writes, that influence human love including mystery, reciprocal liking, and readiness to enter a relationship. Why can't these factors apply to robots, too?
Critics caution against "the premise that a robot is better than nothing." Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that "If you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with — friends, family, community."