Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sexbots and Flying Cars

I'm going to make a prediction (and you heard it here first):

Sexbots will be to the 21st Century what flying cars were to the 20th Century

It seems that a week can't go by this past year without me stumbling across an article like this one:

This got me thinking about flying cars.

Wikipedia dates the flying car concept to the early 20th Century, but it was certainly a futurology staple by the golden age of sci-fi. It's role in pop-culture today is mainly a synecdoche for our disappointed technological expectations -- Dude, Where's My Flying Car? -- but in retrospect, it's easy to see how hard it would be to meet the demands we actually put on them. In addition to, you know, actually flying, the Flying Car would have had to at least approximate many of the performance factors we get from today's automobiles: safety; ease of operation; carrying capacity; quietness; passenger comfort; and adaptability to existing infrastructure, most obviously parking spaces. Today, private aircraft meet none of these requirements. Even for many multiples of the price of an automobile, an aircraft is cramped, noisy, and very limited in the weight it can carry. (Full disclosure: I have a private pilot's license and enough experience in the Cessna 172 to know.) There are no collision safety standards for aircraft of which I am aware, since the weight added by meeting such standards would keep the aircraft on the ground. No suburban neighborhood would tolerate the noise of even a Cessna taking off from the street that ran in front of its houses, nevermind the sound of a helicopter, which are physically painful to listen to from even 50 yards away. And that's just aircraft. Add in the requirement that the aircraft also drive around like a car, Back-to-the-Future DeLorean-style, and the goal is even further out of our technological reach.

And so it will be with the sexbot. As a matter of first principles, the human race didn't come to dominate the planet by being easily tricked into frittering away its reproductive capacity on inanimate objects. So it follows that to appeal to the broad mass of humanity beyond a handful of fetishists, the sexbot has a steep hill to climb: it would have to be physically and functionally indistinguishable from a real person.

At risk of appear picky, I'm not remotely impressed by what I've seen so far. The Daily Star article has a lot of pictures (some NSFW-ish), and in almost none of them would I ever mistake the sexbot for a real person even in still photographs. Consider the first picture of the article's slide show: six females, standing and sitting in two rows; the caption stipulates that it's a mix of humans and dolls. Four of the females are obviously dolls. I'm not sure about the standing girl in the middle -- she's partially obscured -- but the seated girl on the right is, just as obviously, an actually human, vastly more lifelike than the dolls. That contest wasn't even close, and again, I could distiguish real from fake in a still photograph. The gulf between real an fake widens by an order of magnitude when the dolls have to move under their own power. And (I anticipate) the gulf widens expontially yet again when we touch them. So, no, I predict that these devices will not actually move like a real person, and actually feeling like a real person (since that's what would be involved) is even further beyond the technology.

So, why is the RealDoll (the subject of the article and the Cadillac of blow-ups) and other like firms getting all this press? Certainly, titillation is involved, but I suspect that the main reason is to lure in venture capital. My two cents: move along, Wall Street. This isn't the wave-of-the-future you're looking for.


Thursday said...

People masturbate a lot, and a sexbot that is an improvement on regular masturbation seems well within reach, especially supplemented with VR. So, I don't think the level of interest will be quite so trivial.

But I agree the current tech is not anywhere near the level where it seriously upsets the sexual marketplace.

Dr. Φ said...

Just last month, I took a couple of demos of the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers. I was impressed. The technology is about where I'm now in the market for a video game console.

But VR porn is competing against regular 2D porn with human performers at a fraction of its (and depending on your requirements, zero) cost. And that's before you add in the cost of sexbot, which can run $10K if memory serves. So yeah, it can be an improvement and still be a niche product.