A Bright Future for Sex with Robots

Artist's concept of sex with a robot [Source: NYT]I read a sentence in a book review that gets my vote (along with “Don’t tase me, bro”) for quote of the year: “By 2025 at the latest,artificial-emotion technologies will allow robots to be more emotionally available than the typical American human male.” Now that’s news you can use.

This prognostication comes from a NYT book review by Robin Marantz Henig of David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. The review explains:

By the middle of this century, [Levy] predicts, “love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans, while the number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach more than is in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined.”

If this seems a bit much, hang on. Levy, an expert on artificial intelligence and the author of “Robots Unlimited,” builds his case gradually. He begins with what scientists know about why humans fall in love with other humans. There are 10 factors, he writes, including mystery, reciprocal liking, and readiness to enter a relationship. Why can’t these factors apply to robots, too? Even something as apparently human as “reciprocal liking” can be programmed into a robot’s behavior, and if it acts as if it likes you that’s often all that matters.

Next, Levy points out that we’re perfectly capable of falling in love with non-humans, including our pets, our teddy bears, our computers and our computerized pets (remember the Furby and Tamagotchi crazes a few years ago?). Once you realize how easy it is to think of your own laptop as a sympathetic friend, how much more difficult is it to imagine having fond feelings for a robot programmed to interact with you in exactly the way your heart desires?

Henig provides a touch of validation to the book’s premise by recalling a recent visit to M.I.T.’s humanoid robotics lab, where she developed something of a crush.  “The object of my affection was Domo, a man-size machine with a buff torso and big blue eyes, a cross between He-Man and the Chrysler Building; when it gripped my hand in its strong rubbery pincers I felt a kind of thrill.”

The review appeared December 2 in the NYT’s Holiday Book Issue, where you will find the 10 Best Books and 100 Notable Books of 2007.

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