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21 August 2006
Do Android Chicks Dream Of Electric Dicks?
by Paul Aitken

Last week I wrote about the variance in sexual desire between men and women. The upshot is that men (generally) want sex more than women and must therefore either seek other means of meeting that need or suffer the pangs of desires unfulfilled. Obviously, life is full of wants unmet (I for one would like my very own roller coaster with a double backwards spiral) but the want for sex is unique amongst our various inclinations. Sometimes it's wistful, like a longing. At other times it's a hunger, a feeling of vague discomfort, never oppressive but often nagging, like the sensation of being too hot or too cold. It's an immediate desire. Promises of future nookie serve only to exacerbate the nagging feeling. Sometimes this is fun, like getting all worked up on the car trip back to her apartment. But watch that desire curdle if she only wants to sell you a time-share. Unrequited urges aren't fun when they remain unmet.

Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that for most men, the only inconsequential means of alleviating the suffering is to whack-off. Most guys have figured this out, hence the porn industry. But the five-finger shuffle may not be the only option available to us if some techno-visionaries with over-active imaginations have their way. These booty-boffins think the answer lies in animatronics. The notion of sexbots is derived, no doubt in part, from depictions of hot android chicks in shows like Star Trek and movies like AI and Bladerunner. But it's also driven by the essential question that more than any other defines our humanity... What if?

What if indeed? Imagine having your very own sex slave. There'd be no ethical issues to consider because you'd be having sex with a machine. You could even program your robot to want sex and only want sex with you. You could program her to orgasm every five minutes then get up and make you a sandwich when it's over. And while you're eating your sandwich she could give you updated stock quotes and traffic reports. She'd be fully conversant in sports too. She'd be the perfect girlfriend!

Ah yes, but it's one thing to get some hot babe to speak in a monotone and mimic a robot. It's quite another to build a robot that will mimic a hot babe. So how close, or far away, are we? Well, that's hard to say. Most of the Internet banter on the subject of robot sex conveniently leapfrogs the considerable technical hurdles and goes straight into a discussion whether said androids would band together and take over the world. This then leads to geeky philosophical debates on the applicability of Asimov's laws and what kind of ethics apply to master/robot relations.

The potential for a true sex android lies in the convergence of three separate lines of technological research. The first, conventional robotics, focuses on mechanical function over form. Inside-out technology, in other words. The second focuses on outside-in technology and is primarily concerned with form. The third is AI (artificial intelligence) that would allow communication between you and the sexbot and control the sexbot's actions. Of the three, AI is by far the laggard, but for a lot of guys this lack of communication would not, ahem, present a problem.

If your expectation of a sexbot is based on Zhora or Pris from Blade Runner, then you're in for a disappointment. But we've come a long way since the first robot, Westinghouse's Electro, made his debut in the mid 20th century. Right now, the state of the art in animatronic robotics is represented by Honda's ASIMO (pictured).

ASIMO can move about in a complex environment, detect and respond to the movements of nearby objects and recognize human faces and gestures (if you wave ASIMO will wave back). One of the breakthroughs with ASIMO is bipedal movement. This means ASIMO can walk, run (at up to 6 km/h), turn corners, do pirouettes and balance on one foot. Which doesn't sound all that impressive, until you try and do the same after eight beers. All of this comes with a price tag of $300,000 dollars but Honda hopes to have this down to around $50,000 within a few years. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Well that's all very well but who'd want to fuck that?" The answer is nobody. ASIMO clearly isn't built for sex and even if he was; every time you pushed your sweaty hair off your forehead he'd wave at you. ASIMO may be half-way to being able to make you your post-sex sandwich, but for the sex itself, he's got a long way to go.

Which brings us to technology with an outside-in/form-over-function focus. Meet Stacy (pictured). This is most definitely not the el cheapo inflatable sex doll that your father knew.

Stacy is the creation of a company called Realdoll, which makes realistic, life-sized dolls for sex or... whatever. The dolls have natural feel silicone skin, metal joints and are fully flexible. You can do most of the Kama Sutra with Stacy. Realdoll is perhaps the most sophisticated entry in the high-end doll market and with a price tag of around $7,000, also the most expensive. But $7,000 is a lot less than $300,000; and if you're not seeking any more from your sex partner than simply looking good and lying still (and hey, for some guys that's all they get anyway), then Stacy may be ideal.

For those looking for a little motion-in-the-ocean, another company called CybOrgasMatrix makes dolls that come with a pelvic thruster motor and with the help of wireless headphones have some audio capability ("oohs" and "aahs" and "give me more, you well-hung stud," kind of thing).

So as it stands, we're a long way from developing an artificial sex partner that could stand in for the real thing. But say money is no object. Say you're an uber-billionaire who doesn't want to give his money to the Bill Gates Foundation and you're going to devote your entire net worth to building the ultimate sex robot before you die. Could it be done? Do we have the technology? Well, yes and no. The field of robotics is highly fragmented and the sum of its parts far exceeds any attempted integration. Significant advances have been made in sensation and fine movement. Robotic hands have been developed that can pick up a pencil. There are sensors that can react to touch/image/sound and speech recognition has proceeded admirably over the last decade. And if your android can hear you, she can respond, perhaps not with an intelligent discussion about last night's hockey game but she can give you the morning weather report, which is one-up on what my wife is willing to do. With available technology and a collective endeavor on the scale of the Manhattan Project it should be possible to create an animatronic sex doll that could wrap her legs around you, claw your back and scream "Screw me you stud!" for all your neighbors to hear.

But one thing an animatronic sex slave will likely never be able to do is kiss you back. A good kiss involves the intricate movement of mouth, lips and tongue. Hundreds of muscles are involved in a mutual dance that required half-a-million years of evolution to perfect. It's pure instinct and no amount of programming and fine motor movement will ever come close to matching it. Your sex slave may be able make you a BLT on rye and bend over on command, but unless she can turn around and pull your mouth into hers with a kiss that fires up every neuron in your brain, twice daily sex with her is never gonna come close to the "once a week" you get from your wife. Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby. Ain't nothin' like the real thing.

Realdoll Stacy pic courtesy of Realdoll.

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