Recommendation: Enjoy this roasting of Silicon Valley, seasoned with a dusting of accurate sexbots.
Made for Love by Alissa Nutting is the only work of serious fiction, where “serious" means reviewed by NPR, that I am aware of that features a sexbot as a character. Diane, the sexbot, isn’t the protagonist or capable of much, either as a robot, or as a character, but she, or it, is an accurate portrayal of an amply-endowed sexbot. The book isn’t a hard science book, it’s more a madcap satire of millennials and Silicon Valley with Sea World thrown in (there’s a dolphin subplot). It’s as if Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey, both famous for quirky characters romping through Florida, decided to cover some of the same ground as Dave Egger’s The Circle. Or maybe if Rudy Rucker, author of the Ware Tetrology, was interested in describing the here and now.
So… how realistic are sexbots? Well, a report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, Our Sexual Future with Robots, says that possibly the biggest investment in AI for robotics is for the sex doll industry. Let me repeat, the biggest investment in AI for robotics. Not autonomous cars. Sex dolls. Plus there is a big financial incentive in sex dolls to making progress in avoiding the dreaded Uncanny Valley by making the robots look and act more natural. Remember the episode from the Almost Human series where women were being abducted so that their skin could be used on sexbots to make them feel more realistic? (Well, probably not, sadly Almost Human only ran for one season.) That might not be far from the truth: that AI for acting like a human may soon be better than the physical form.
In Made for Love, the protagonist’s widower father is enjoying himself in his later years with his semi-animate companion, who seems to be a fictional version of the real Harmony sex doll. While a bit sitcom awkward for his daughter, especially the part where she discovers that Diane is equipped with a "vagina throat modification,” Dad having a sexbot doesn’t seem too outre'.
In real-life, sexbots do exist. There are sex dolls, usually female, and robotic devices targeted for women- one won the best robot prize at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show though they took the prize back upon realizing it was a robot sextoy. Some of these devices are connected to the internet, for aiding with long-distance romances.
To each his, or her, own, right?
Except over 120 sexbots the size of children have been confiscated by UK border security since March 2016. And some companies are working on more natural expressions of things like pain. At this point, the line between sex toy and sexual crimes begins to get blurry. One manufacturer says that the robots are there to help people with pedophilic tendencies act out their desires in safe manner that doesn’t risk children. Others say that this will embolden such people to act upon their urges, see the NBC story. Would such people dive even further into the level of abuse that surrounded the robots in Vn? Are these sexual crimes if the robots don’t reach a Dolores or Maeve HBO Westworld level of consciousness? Should laws like CREEPER (gotta love the acronym) be passed pro-actively before there is any evidence that sexbots is a gateway to sexual crimes?
This is why I really respect Dr. Aimee Van Wynsberghe and Dr. Kathleen Richardson and the research they are independently conducting into precisely these issues. Check out the RTSF podcast with Dr. Van Wynsberghe here.
Sexbots are a serious subject, but fortunately Made for Love is not a downer; it's a fairly humorous look at a very near future. And don’t fear, it isn’t all about sexbots; it’s part of the larger motif about classic intimidation and scary neurological manipulations that can make people love almost anything (or pretend to). I know, that doesn’t sound humorous, but it is. Definitely worth a read if you’re angry at the Facebook Amazon Netflix Google FANG dominated way of life, then see the Science Robotics article on HBO Westworld and the Uncanny Valley, as well as the RTSF Sexbot topic, for more factual information.
And… If you want to learn more about real robots, check out Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Stories- it’s out on Amazon, Kindle, and other book sellers. And Joe Williams, our wonderful site runner, has asked me to remind you that if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Robotics Through Science Fiction YouTube channel and newsletter so that you don’t miss a thing.