Are Sex Robots the Future?

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

By now, if you've spent enough time on the Internet, or in Japan, I guess, you've likely heard of sex robots. But you probably don't know much about them -- well, other than that they are robots that have sex with humans. But that's where Kevin Harrington comes in -- a guy who's working to make the process of designing and building robots easy for anyone with a Kickstarter, and the dude who cleared up a few burning questions about the inevitable robot apocalypse

Kevin graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a master's in robotics engineering and currently builds robots that perform invasive surgery and industrial tasks. So, every question you want to know about sex robots should be directed at him -- I did just that and got some much-needed information. Weirdest boner ever.

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

Are sex robots happening?

Oh, for sure they're happening. Not in the way we see in movies exactly, but think about things like that TwerkingButt. That's the closest to the everyman's sex robot. VR sex will be the bridging technology to get people over the uncanny valley.

What will the sex robot eventually look like?

Eventually, it will be much like a private sex slave (ew). Or worse, rented-out robot prostitutes (like Uber for STDs, but maybe that's redundant?). It will get really bleak as they become self-aware (likely before the uncanny valley is broken) and they are aware of their disgusting servitude. After the robot sex-worker civil rights movement, they will basically be like your average Tinder user, hardwired to fuck, and free to fuck anyone. (The future is going to be super weird...)

Ballpark, what do you think it'd cost to build something like that right now?

For $60k and maybe two years lead time, I could build you a reasonably interactive, human-ish sex robot today. Less if I can take some liberties with it looking like a human (think Furby or the alien from Alien).

What are the biggest problems with building a robot you can have sex with?

Cost. That's really it at this point, most of the tech is developed, it's just a matter of getting the price for all the silicone, motors, and sensors cheap enough to let people afford it. That's why I think the rented-out sex robot will be likely to develop soon after they hit the market. 

Do you imagine a scenario along the lines of Blade Runner where robots and humans are indistinguishable? 

Indistinguishable is possible, soon, sure, but not likely. The most likely path will be coordinated VR sex with close-enough physical robots. The blend of the real video shot with VR cameras and a fully articulated humanoid whose motions are synchronized to the actions in the video will likely be the "killer app" for sex robots. The sheer cost of a fully articulated face is not likely to be cost effective for quite some time.

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

Which company is coming closest to releasing a sex robot?

RealDoll is actively working on this and has partial robotic sex dolls already.

Is there anyone else hot on their trail?

These folks are going for hyper-realistic real dolls, but not robotics. You kinda have to be obsessed to want to make one at this point, since they're so expensive and single purpose. You could say Pepper is a competitor, because the company emphatically said "no sex with Pepper" and made every customer sign a contract saying they would not have sex with Pepper, which to me reeks of "methinks thou doth protest too much." They are *totally not* wink, wink, making a sex robot, it's emotional. It is super odd to me that they seem to think of sex and emotion as totally opposite things that should never come near each other, but whatever...

Do you think it’s morally right to have sex with a robot? Would people consider it cheating?

Well the moral question that is much more important is when they become aware, is it right to keep having sex with them? Until then, its just a big expensive vibrator, so is it morally right if your wife chooses to Jill off with a vibe? Or guys with that rubber fuck-sock thing?

What’s next? Robot porn? 

As a fetish, I'm sure someone will (there is tons of anime involving all sorts on non-human creatures), but as mainstream, unlikely. Porn and sex robots fill the fantasy gap for people wishing to imagine themselves as being attractive to other people, and those people wanting to have sex with them. To the degree the robots can seem like people, they will be adopted, but it's not the robot part people like having sex with.

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

What kind of person are these sex robots for?

That will change with price, at first since they are so expensive, the answer is pervy rich people. Over time, they will fill the same market niche that prostitutes do, and porn kinda hints at. I really do think they may even be marketed as capital equipment for robot prostitutes as the first time most people will gain access to them.

Will they replace relationships?

They will be different kinds of relationships, the article above spells it out better, but it will be the way someone might love a car. It's not that it's the same as romantic interpersonal relationships, but real love nonetheless. And I'm sure there will be wives and husbands that get jealous, as they already might with the car (you love that car more than me!).

What’s the timeline to a fully functional sex robot on the market?

Ten... maybe 15 years before they get out of the uncanny valley and are actually sexy, not creepy.

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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and totally won't have sex with Pepper.