Will humans ever have sex with robots?
The database of the senses. By Olivia Solon
We are on the brink of a new sexual revolution: procreation without sex and sex without a human counterpart. That promises us healthier children and tailor-made love robots. For all its convenience, this also harbors dangers from which technology may itself free us again: by outgrowing us and saying goodbye to us.
In the sixties of the last century, the pill and other contraceptives ushered in a new era in the relationship between the sexes: that of sex without reproduction. Women suddenly had more control over the outcome of their sexual adventures. Gender roles have been modified, the risk of extramarital affairs has been minimized, and the decision at which point in time to start a family has finally become a real decision, which also redefines the role of women in the world of work.
Today we are at the beginning of a new sexual revolution: that of reproduction without sex. The cryopreservation of embryos, egg cells and sperm enables a comfortable conception delayed by years. Scientific advances also make it possible to produce egg or sperm cells from normal skin or other body cells, which gives even sterile women after the menopause the opportunity to reproduce. Egg cells can even be generated from male cells and sperm from female cells, so that same-sex couples could soon have offspring without a donor of the opposite sex having to come into play. Male couples still need help with carrying the baby, but research is already being carried out into making an artificial uterus. Scientists from the University of Tokyo pioneered a technique called “extrauterine fetal incubation”: They put goats in incubators filled with artificial amniotic fluid that were warmed to body temperature. They connected catheters to the umbilical cord to supply the fetuses with oxygenated blood. So far, none of the animals born in this way has been able to survive, but the research team is confident that this will one day be possible. The imagined baby factory "Hatchery" of the writer Aldous Huxley could thus become a reality. As a form of procreation, the physical encounter between mother and father will increasingly disappear. Because artificial reproduction not only allows us to have children later and regardless of gender. It also ensures that the child has the desired genetic makeup.
By decoupling the sexual act from reproduction, people in the future will be able to focus on maximizing the enjoyment of sensual experiences without worrying about fertile days or ticking biological clocks. And just as with reproduction, advances in technology will also help here, be it with regard to intelligent sex toys, orgasms at the push of a button, love drugs or sex robots.
ORGASM AT THE TOUCH OF A BUTTON
Technological aids were already used in the Paleolithic to increase pleasure. The rudimentary dildos of that time continued to develop into interactive, electronic and communicating sex toys that send the touches of one user to the counterpart of the other, so that couples can have sex with each other even from a distance. It is to be expected that with the further technological development even experiences of such overwhelming force will be possible that they put those of "simple" interpersonal sexual intercourse in the shade.
New sensory experiences are becoming more and more sophisticated, especially through the development in the field of bioelectronics, among other things through the possibility of sending a series of stored electrical impulses to specific nerve cells in the body in order to stimulate them. As soon as the communication between the nerve cells of the brain and body is sufficiently understood, we will be able to arouse ourselves in a very specific, desired way at the push of a button and even trigger orgasms.
It is also likely that we will support these electronically induced sensory experiences with chemical aids, such as neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin, which can increase cognition in a similar way as certain drugs, for example ecstasy, do. Thanks to the careful manipulation of our central nervous system, the orgasm of the future could be up to eleven times stronger than it is possible today. This would completely decouple sexual sensation from physical activity. We could even try stimulation combinations that work particularly well for other people - all stored in huge digital databases.
LOSS OF INTERPERSONAL INTIMITY
However, the more we seek these elaborate sexual experiences, the less we will endeavor to have interpersonal encounters, at least of a sexual nature. Until now, people had to make an effort in order to achieve sexual pleasure, ensnare the object of desire and seduce them with charm. But if machines can give us more intense experiences than any human, why do we still need real bodies as counterparts? No longer for reproduction anyway. And even sexual intercourse with a flesh-and-blood partner that takes place for pure pleasure could soon be seen as too troublesome, too boring and, moreover, unnecessarily “unclean” to bother about. Why waste time and money in an elaborate way to find someone who could be sexually compatible when you can simply press CTRL + SHIFT + O to orgasm?
Sex will therefore take place more and more detached from emotions for another person and instead increasingly become a means to experience pleasure and satisfaction in the most efficient way possible. This means that sexuality will be standardized and “dehumanized” in a similar way to the nature of friendship through Facebook. The easier it is for us to achieve sexual fulfillment at the push of a button, the more we risk demystifying sexuality and sensuality. So far, people have not only sought the physical act of merging, but also a deeper connection to others, coupled with feelings, love and intimacy. These sensations, in turn, can intensify the experience of sexuality - an experience that is tied to a very specific person as well as to the fear of occasional rejection or even complete loss and is commonly expressed by the term "making love" instead of "having sex" . In order not to miss this very special stimulus, but not to have to get entangled in complicated and disappointing interpersonal relationships, people will probably try to be able to develop such emotions also towards sex robots, or better: towards the electronic companions of the future that offer more than only sex and can or must be seduced before they consent to a sexual act. These will be able to interact with us in a personalized, even tailor-made way, stimulate us mentally and physically and thus serve as a substitute for interpersonal relationships without us having to fear rejection. Of course, such creatures do not yet exist. However, there is already a steadily growing market for life-size, human-looking sex dolls that give their buyers the illusion of real company. The offer ranges from inflatable bachelorette party jokes to photo-realistic, interactive robots such as the product Roxxxy, a well-formed, agile android woman with a plastic skin. It even has a low level of artificial intelligence, has been programmed to learn what its buyer likes, responds with a Siri-like voice and can even send emails to its owner. She should not only be a lover, but to a certain extent also be a life partner, albeit a very simple version of it, of course.
In Japan, the desire for opposite-sex society is also satisfied with a Nintendo DS game called LovePlus, a dating simulator that offers a sizeable selection of virtual girlfriends. And Spike Jonze's film "Her", in which a man falls in love with an operating system with artificial intelligence, gives us an idea of how quickly such virtual interactions can mutate into deep love relationships.
Today's technology is still comparatively half-baked: We are in the era of Sexbots 1.0. The machines we have developed so far are not really intelligent yet and offer little more than the possibility of subtle masturbation. But it is only a matter of time before robots will be able to decide for themselves which people they want as sexual partners. In his book "Love and Sex with Robots", the artificial intelligence expert David Levy predicts that by the middle of this century we will have robots that look so lifelike and that are equipped with such a high level of artificial intelligence that they can hardly be used by humans are more distinguishable. We will have sex with these robots and some of us will even marry them. Machines will replace human prostitutes and put an end to trafficking in women. Compared to the beautiful, anatomically perfect high-tech androids with complex artificial intelligence, the human alternative could simply be less attractive.
PEOPLE AS THE NEW PANDAS
The first signs of such a development can already be seen. Surveys conducted in Japan in 2008 and 2010 found that young people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with person-to-person sexual contact. 36 percent of men between the ages of 16 and 19 reported having an aversion to sex with another person. And many said they actually prefer anime characters and find online sex less uncomfortable than copulating with a real person.
Robots and virtual beings will increasingly be able to simulate the perfect lover. In the evening they will ask how your day was, agree with you when you complain about the boss, never forget your birthday or your favorite meal, and do not complain when you put on weight or forgot to wash the dishes. You will never be unfaithful or ever weary of your sayings. Sophisticated algorithms will enable you to detect micro-changes in your facial expressions that are barely perceptible to the human eye and thus find out whether you are currently sad, angry or bored, while your artificial sexual organs will feel as if they were made for you - because they are yes also would be. Real people can never be so perfect. Because we are not there to serve just one other person. We are complex, emotional beings with unpredictable behavior. We need to balance the demands of loved ones with our own needs. We have an identity that extends beyond our roles as lovers, partners, and family members.
For those who will choose a love-and-sex robot, however, be warned: machines have no feelings. They're just good at making people think they have some. And people like to be fooled. Our egos just crave too much to be petted. There was always evidence for this, especially in connection with the care of elderly, sick or depressed people, who were only too happy to be comforted by Paro, the robot in the shape of a seal, and to help them cope with personal problems. Although this cuddly companion is not really interested in the inner workings of its user, he and his kind manage, in the words of MIT researcher Sherry Turkle - "to push our Darwinian buttons" and to create the "feeling of friendship". If our robot partners tell us what we want to hear, we may never again be forced to face the complicated reality of interpersonal love relationships; we will withdraw into the world with our yes-men and women. Reproduction will no longer be possible without medical help. From the evolutionary point of view, we will have evolved to no longer evolve; at least not naturally. Humans become the new pandas - completely unwilling to reproduce through sex. But we shouldn't lose all hope. If we're lucky, the machines, after developing their own feelings and a real consciousness, eventually reach a level of intelligence that makes them find relationships with people unsatisfactory, as Samantha in Spike Jonze's film "Her": Suddenly was she is able to be in love with hundreds of other men at the same time, a fact her human partner Theodore found difficult to deal with. In the end, however, it was artificial intelligence itself that decided to leave people and, of course, Theodore with them, as it had reached a higher form of existence. And if the robots do not start to find us boring, it is at least likely that emotionally healthy people will find relationships with technical companions too one-dimensional and unfulfilling. Because how can a relationship really be valued when there is no danger that the object of desire will ever reject or leave you? While we may enjoy the craftsmanship of artificial creatures for a while, we will end up seeking authentic interactions and returning to the heartbreaking chaos of human intimacy. Because people want to be really and genuinely loved, not to be an object of a love simulation.
OLIVIA SOLON is editor of the technology magazine «Wired», specializing in technological developments, science and digital culture.
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