Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sex Dolls That Talk Back

This is the fifth episode in a Bits video series, called Robotica, examining how robots are poised to change the way we do business and conduct our daily lives.

Matt McMullen has proved that some people are willing to spend thousands on sex dolls.

Mr. McMullen, the creator of the RealDoll, says he has sold over 5,000 customizable, life-size dolls since 1996, with prices from $5,000 to $10,000. Not only can his customers decide on body type and skin, hair and eye color, but on a recent day in the company’s factory in San Marcos, Calif., a craftsman was even furnishing one doll with custom-ordered toes.

Mr. McMullen’s new project, which he is calling Realbotix, is an attempt to animate the doll. He has assembled a small team that includes engineers who have worked for Hanson Robotics, a robotics lab that produces shockingly lifelike humanoid robots.

Mr. McMullen is first focusing on developing convincing artificial intelligence, and a robotic head that can blink and open and close its mouth. He’s also working to integrate other emerging technologies, like a mobile app that acts like a virtual assistant and companion, and virtual reality headsets that can be used separately or in tandem with the physical doll.

One of the challenges that Mr. McMullen will have to contend with is the so-called uncanny valley. It is a concept first written about in 1970 by a Japanese researcher, that says people’s responses to robots will shift sharply from empathy to revulsion the more closely the robots resemble humans. In other words, something robotic that looks alive, but is not completely convincing, will creep people out.

In a paper, the researcher, Masahiro Mori, then a robotics professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, likened the experience to encountering a prosthetic limb.

“We could be startled during a handshake by its limp boneless grip together with its texture and coldness,” he wrote. When that happens, according to Mr. Mori, “we lose our sense of affinity, and the hand becomes uncanny.”

With Realbotix, Mr. McMullen is trying to avoid that sense of uncanny by creating products that still look like dolls and not, as he says, copies of people.

Mr. McMullen says the Realbotix head, which can be attached to the existing RealDoll body, will cost around $10,000, and be commercially available in two years. The full body, which he will begin developing next, will most likely range from $30,000 to $60,000. — Emma Cott

New York Times
June 11th, 2015

Ehm... almost but not real enough yet. Maybe in 10 more years I'll have sex with a robot and then I'll brag about it online.
"Yeah... I just had sex with a robot for the first time and it was... electrifying."
Does it constitute as cheating if you fuck a robot and your partner doesn't realize it? Hm. What a powerful philosophical question. (Not. It's just an inanimate object -- like that guy who was arresting for fucking a park bench…/Man-who-had-sex-with-park-benc…. Not much difference just a more complicated inanimate object, that's all, and for women I suppose it would be a more realistic dildo surrounded by what could be considered a man but is actually a heap of rubber, plastic, and machinery.)
Does it really matter? I don't even find this debate that intellectually challenging or stimulating. I think virtual reality will be more interesting, though (where you are more a part of the machine and can less tell the difference -- this is going to happen as well).

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