Love Means Never Having to Say 404 Error

A new robot promises sex. And more...

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A New Jersey inventor unveiled a $9,000 sex robot at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas earlier this month, and it’s hard to say who should be more concerned: hookers, man’s best friend, or Elvis impersonators. With her silicone boobs and silicon brain, Roxxxy could eventually put them all out of business.

Granted, Roxxxy doesn’t look like much now, at least based on photos taken at the trade show. Her face exhibits the wrinkle-free alien gloss of, say, Joan Rivers. The angled terrain of her nose and jawline could keep a gaggle of Beverly Hills plastic surgeons busy for at least a year. Her open-mouthed, glassy-eyed gaze projects equal measures of belligerence and defiance, like a Jersey Shore habitué who’s had approximately 10 too many cherry lemonades.

Compared to the Real Doll, another latex helpmate that’s been around for more than a decade, Roxxxy is an aesthetic step backwards. But on an intellectual and emotional level, she breaks new ground for androids and may in fact already be a little too life-like. For example, she snores. And it sounds like she spends too much time on the Internet, trolling for software updates via a laptop connected by cables to her back and inundating her human mate with e-mail mash notes.

Douglas Hines, the former Bell Labs engineer who created her, told reporters at the Expo that his goal was to make a full-fledged companion. Embedded motion sensors alert Roxxxy when she’s being touched and she can respond with pre-recorded conversation. Soon, Hines promises, she’ll be able to synthesize more personalized responses on the fly.

“She has a personality. She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch. She goes to sleep. We are trying to replicate a personality of a person…” Hines exclaimed at the Expo. “ She knows exactly what you like. If you like Porsches, she likes Porsches. If you like soccer, she likes soccer.”

In other words, she’s not just a compliant squeeze toy who indulges your every twisted sexual whim and perversion. She’s also built to endure — no, enjoy — the truly gross and annoying facets of your personality, too, such as your fondness for peanut butter and pickled herring sandwiches, or your endless conspiracy theories about who really killed JFK, Jr.

While sex dolls are typically portrayed as niche products for marginalized misfits, these misfits are actually just early adopters whose robust imaginations have permitted them to see past the limits of current technology and arrive at the future ahead of us. Clearly sex dolls are where we’re headed — every great invention of the past hundred years points in that direction. The automobile, the telephone, the TV, the computer, the ATM, the VCR, Fed Ex, pizza delivery, the self-serve gas station, Tivo — they all put more space between individuals and the rest of the world. They all make our lives more convenient and autonomous. The sex doll merely continues this trend.

In developed nations, even the poorest among us now enjoy luxuries that were beyond the grasp of history’s most privileged figures. Lock King Tut into a tomb with his finest treasures and that gleaming, flawlessly machined jewel we call a Coke can, and it’s not his heavy, clunky, sloppily crafted armchairs he’d be ooh-ing and ahh-ing over. Accustomed to having things exactly as we want them, surrounded by everyday beauty, how can we not look at our fellow humans and find each other lacking? Every iPod that Apple sells is a gorgeous hunk of streamlined and extremely useful plastic — but how many people do you know who qualify as human iPods?

The material goods we use to construct our identities now are so magnificent we’ve come to expect a certain level of quality to inform all aspects of our lives. Drive a factory-fresh M6 Coupe, or even just aspire to it, and you’re not going to want to hang out with the human equivalent of a 2001 Kia Rio. Experience the perfect cut and exquisite feel of a John Varvatos semi-worsted Italian spun cashmere crewneck sweater, and will you still feel quite the same way about your comfortable but not particularly elegant spouse?

In the Facebook era, the human accessories with which we furnish our lives with are status symbols, too, and we have high expectations for them. The ideal models are witty, stylish, always busy doing exciting things, and yet somehow perennially available to listen to you vent about your crummy life.

If you’re rich and famous yourself, such rare beings may coalesce around you, but for the rest of us, relationships grow increasingly frustrating: Where are the gorgeous and obliging sycophants who will serve us as faithfully and stylishly as our designer space heaters do?

A charismatic Labradoodle can offer some solace. Celebrities can as well. Thanks to reality TV and the Internet, we can track their lives so closely it’s almost as if they’re the fantastic friends we wished we had. And yet Ashton Kutcher can’t respond to every tweet we send him. And thus we grow more and more lonely.  For  all our social networks and mega-churches, the nation’s solitude deficit is rising. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, nearly 25 percent of Americans said they had not discussed important matters with anyone during the previous six months. In 1985, when the survey was first conducted, only seven percent of the respondents made this claim.

Surely those numbers favor Douglas Hines and his Roxxxy. In the 2007 movie Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays a preternaturally shy man whose relationship with a silicone doll proves so beneficial that ultimately he starts interacting with actual organic women, but that’s just feel-good Hollywood spin. In reality, the migration path moves in the opposite direction: Once you go synthetic, you never regret it.

Fast-forward a decade or so, when Roxxxy’s got a better wig, more flattering orthodontia, and the ability to laugh with sincere delight at all your jokes — how many of us will be able to resist her charms then? And what will happen to the planet when we succumb to her? It’s easy to imagine a dystopian future in which pathologically entitled humans, spoiled by ever-growing entourages of servile android sluts, lose their capacity to interact civilly with anyone who isn’t expressly programmed to do their bidding.

But is that really the only — or even the likely — possibility? Imagine a world where everyone who isn’t made of rubber is having the best sex of their lives, three times a day. Imagine a world where everyone is so deeply in love that the tenderness, compassion, and gratitude for their miraculous sex robots spills over into every aspect of their lives. Imagine a world in which each night, everyone goes home to a loyal pet who’s barking excitedly at the door, deliriously happy to see them — only the pet looks like Megan Fox or Robert Pattinson and it’s really really horny? An unprecedented era of human happiness will soon be upon us. Unless, of course, for divorce lawyers. • 26 January 2010

 

Greg Beato is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Follow @GregBeato on Twitter.

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