Sex sells, no doubt about that. But sex with robots is an idea that might take some getting used to. Even so, robot whoopee could become the sexual revolution of the future given the current pace of technology and the human appetite for eroticism.
In fact, by 2050, sex with robots could become more common than sex between flesh-and-blood humans. That's the prediction put forward in a recent paper titled "The Future of Sex Report: The Rise of the Robosexuals" by futurologist Ian Pearson. In the report, he argues not only that virtual sex and sex with robots will surpass human intimacy, but that it might even be a positive advancement.
That doesn't mean that it won't raise some moral, emotional and philosophical quandaries for its human partakers, however. At the very least, if robot sex does become the future of intimacy, it's sure to give a whole new meaning to that dreaded, ambiguous relationship status: It's complicated.
Though sex with robots might sound off-putting at first blush, it's perhaps less foreign if you consider all the other sorts of sex toys and erotic substitutes already available to consumers. Are sexy robots really that much more outrageous than blow-up sex dolls, for instance? In fact, given the rise of Internet dating, it could be argued that virtual sex, at least in rudimentary form, has already escalated from niche trend to widespread acceptance. If you think about it, is sex in a virtual world really so much different than phone sex, or even much different than sexual fantasizing in one's own imagination?
If anything, sex in a realistic virtual world is probably much, much better.
To truly understand the viability of this upcoming sexual revolution, it helps to come to grips with the technology behind it. The future of sex, as outlined in Pearson's report, has a two-pronged outlook. There is the development of more realistic robots (agile ones, equipped with soft, flesh-like coverings and perhaps even programmed with behavior to your liking), and then there is the development of more realistic, interactive virtual reality. Eventually, the these two worlds are likely to merge, through virtual control of sex robots. Imagine technology akin to what is portrayed in the 2009 movie, "Avatar," with an erotic twist.
In fact, because an AI doesn’t have to live in any specific robot, you can take it anywhere and implant it in a variety of robots. You'll be able to switch up the appearance of your lover without changing its personality, its essence.
Major advancements in new, virtual ways of connecting with another person or an AI are already on the horizon. Special gloves can already convey some aspects of touch and texture, for instance. But this is just the beginning.
As explained in the report: "We’re just seeing the dawn of virtual reality with clumsy headsets and a rich variety of stimulators. Next will be lighter weight glasses and then active contact lenses, with active skin coming in to record and replay sensations. Finally, we’ll end up with direct links to the brain, and finally the ability to directly stimulate the septal area to create an orgasm at the touch of a button. Along the way we’ll get technology to let you share experiences, inhabit other people’s bodies, even lock them in place or control them electronically."
If you think that Ashley Madison getting hacked was scandalous, imagine the threat that hacking could pose in this futuristic virtual sex world.
How will this change human relationships?
Though robo-sex could eventually surpass flesh-and-blood sex, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for human sexuality. Pearson predicts that it will actually lead to more sex overall and, perhaps, more sexual freedom without some of the negative repercussions. Sex could conceivably be safer, with less fear of sexually transmitted disease, and it will give people an outlet for sexual fantasies which may not otherwise be consensual. Certain social barriers to intimacy could be eliminated. Age, health or physical attractiveness won't matter in a virtual world occupied only by avatars, for instance. Perhaps human relationships would grow to become more focused on mental and spiritual intimacy rather than physical attributes.
This doesn't mean there won't be some towering emotional and moral hurdles to overcome as well. What counts as cheating in a virtual sexual landscape? How would you feel if you came home and found your partner boning a robot? What if the robot had someone else's face on it? What if it had your face on it, but exhibited someone else's behavior?
Love and sex could become increasingly separated and independent. Courts will need to decide the legal repercussions of using another person's virtual likeness without their permission.
As AIs become more advanced, humans could end up falling in love with them too. How seriously should such relationships be taken? What about robot-human marriages? What might rampant robot sex do to society's reproduction rates?
Really, these social and philosophical questions are just scratching the surface. Whether or not all of this pans out as Pearson predicts remains to be seen, but there's no doubting the power and creativity of the human sexual drive. Our dispositions toward robot sex are likely to evolve with the technology, and technological limitation may be the only real barrier to Pearson's vision becoming a reality.
As the saying goes: If you build it, they will come.