The future of human interactivity with robots could take on a whole other dimension if android and robotic technology accelerates at the same rate that computer technology has.
Just imagine, a future populated not only by humans but also by ubiquitous machines that are capable of assisting with everyday tasks and chores.
But what if you could make a robot that could also replace the most intimate of human relationships?
We’re talking about sex, of course, and while sex robots have long been a feature of science fiction, they could soon become science fact if Japanese engineers like Hiroshi Ishiguro have their way.
Hiroshi is interested in the “dynamics” of human to human interaction and how we make connections in life.
In a long example offered in Wired, these androids are anything but yesterday’s sock puppet-like automatons. They blink, they wave, they speak – all of the subtleties of human interaction are being distilled into their programming. But can interaction be programmed? Can certain cues guarantee certain social outcomes? Or is life a little less scientific than that?
Hiroshi hopes to find out and so far, what he has discovered may surprise you. To a certain extent, interactions between people can be programmed and quantified in algorithms. It is the nuances of life that have a hard time shining through, however.
In the 15 years he has produced androids Kazuo has done replicas of everyone from newscasters to fashion models. He has made 30 androids in total that have made appearances everywhere from shopping malls to street corners.
He conducts his work mainly at two institutions according to Wired, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Nara and the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University.
As the article admits, the capability to build a fully functioning artificial robot that mimics humans in their entirety is well beyond our current capabilities. Giving these robots are modicum of humanity is also well beyond our grasp – but it may not remain this way permanently.
One controversial use for human-like androids is sex, and this has a lot of people up in arms. Some critics think this is a vulgar waste of technology and resources, while others see the potential to end human trafficking.
Is sex with robots viable? Depends on who you ask, but it is definitely a trend we will see in the future.
To some critics sex with robots is also offensive to the senses. There’s something inherently weird about the whole thing. And then again, for other people the process would be nothing different than masturbation with a toy.
Of course, this very adult debate brings out very adult arguments and raises questions about the nature of existence and the quality of human interaction. Hiroshi Ishiguro believes that the more human-like our robots become, the more receptive we will be towards the idea of having a relationship with it. As technology makes incremental progress towards this goal, the phenomenon approaches ever closer to reality. This is, of course, assuming that people would require a totally lifelike android to have a sexual relationship with in the first place. That leve of sophistication may be unnecessary, and, indeed, a bit overboard.
Because if androids can truly feel, think, and interact like humans, is there not something vulgar about turning them into silicone prostitutes?
Should something with humanity be purpose built for sex?
Often with things the question of “can we do something?” is less important than “should we do something?” That would seem to be at the crux of the debate of sex robots. It is something we can easily do, but is it something we should do? Does it make sense to give something some semblance of life only to make that existence as some sort of sex slave?
This may all sound a bit ridiculous, but you have to keep in mind we’re talking about a robot that is human in almost every sense – not an advanced sex toy.
Human-robot interaction is an emerging interdisciplinary field that involves computer programming and engineering. It is a nascent area of study that is focused on developing how android and humans will work together in the future.
One thing students really focus on in HRI studies are the subtle, non-verbal cues that other human offer each other. These cues help us interact with one another and, in some ways, are more powerful than spoken statements.
Mastery of this form of human interaction will determine how successful an android is at convincing someone it is authentically responding to them. But, again, is this level of interaction necessary for a sex doll?
One theme that Wired touches on in its article and a psychological facet worth exploring is the concept of loneliness. In the modern world, loneliness is attributed to a range of health and social ills, and perhaps an authentically human android could help cure this?
The strange thing is that Hiroshi describes himself as lonely even while having a family. But what about all of those people who don’t have a family and describe themselves as lonely? Would a robot companion ever fill the space a person should occupy?
Hiroshi Ishiguro at one point describes human interaction and conversation as an illusion. It is an illusion that engineers like him are seeking to master, the ability to cast a robot as a fully-fledged person. Bridging this intimacy gap, he believes, will make human and robot interactions that much more believable. Further, it will not only make them believable, but desirable.
And that’s the crux of the debate – the desire to be wanted and needed coupled with the ability to express that and reciprocate it. The concept of a sex robot goes beyond the imagined “deviancy” of the act and even further beyond sex itself. Perhaps people will find sex with robots more enjoyable if the robot is more mechanical, or perhaps they will prefer a robot that is conversational and interactive. One thing remains: The more advanced the AI powering robots becomes, the closer to human they reveal themselves to be, the more moral quandaries we as a species will encounter in building and procuring them for bespoke purposes. No one would ever raise a child to be a sex worker, so why would we burden a sentient machine with this life, goes the argument.
No matter what the future holds, we can be certain that the more advanced technology gets, the more questions we will have to answer about it and our places in this world.