“A great science fiction detective story” - Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Don´t you dare! I know you want to rush straight on to the sexy stuff, but first you should click on the Luck & Death banner, above.
For a limited time you can order a special edition of the book at the regular retail price of $5.00. Free sample chapters are available, as is an MP3 sample chapter for your iPod or other device. If you enjoy this site, try it!
Okay, now that you´ve clicked and ordered your copy, by all means move on to the Robot Sex…
The secondary title of this installment of Robot Sex Week — or Sex, Intimacy, and Artificial Humans, as it´s formally known — comes from the Rocky Horror Picture Show of course, when staid Janet bursts into song upon finally realizing that she really, no really, wants to have sex for the first time.
And, as the song implies, there is no sex without a sense of touch.
That might seem obvious, but when it comes to robot sex, we are not the only ones who need a sense of touch. For an artificial person to be able to realistically engage in sex instead of lying inert or fumbling around like the worst teenage virgin, it too must have a sense of touch.
Enter haptic technology — the technology of touch.
A good introduction to haptic technology can be found in Technology Based On Touch: Haptics Technology by Sharma et al, while some indication of the growth of haptics can be found in Analysis of Haptics Evolution from Web Search Engines’ Data by Guerraz and Loscos.
You probably know haptic technology primarily through touch-screens, but more sophisticated versions of haptics are on their way. They promise to do two things.
First, they will extend our ability to interact with virtual realities. We will finally be able to actually feel the virtual worlds which at present we mostly just see and hear. As Stephen Brewster puts it in The Impact of Haptic ‘Touching’ Technology on Cultural Applications:
New technologies from the area of virtual reality (VR) now allow computer users to use their sense of touch to feel virtual objects. Touch is a very powerful sense but it has so far been neglected in computing. State-of-the-art haptic (or force-feedback) devices allow users to feel and touch virtual objects with a high degree of realism. An artefact’s surface properties can be modelled so that someone using a haptic device could feel it as a solid, three-dimensional object with different textures, hardness or softness.
To see an example of how haptics are beginning to be applied in practical ways to virtual environments — in this case for medical training — see the first video embedded at the end of this post.
Second, and more relevant for our purposes here, improved haptic technologies will extend the ability of our technology to feel our world and thus interact with us in our natural setting.
To see an approximation of the second phenomenon, see the second video. Note that in this video the haptic technology is being used to provide sensory feedback — a sense of touch — through a robotic device to the surgeon who is operating it. This allows surgeons to operate via robots over great distances without losing a key sensory input.
What will be necessary for a sexually-capable robot, however, is that the haptic feedback not go back to a human, but to the operating system of the robot itself.
Without effective haptics, a robot´s movements won´t be realistic and, perhaps more importantly, won´t be responsive, the way a human sexual partner´s movements are. Without that, robot sex is unlikely to be anything more than a novelty.
After all, a great part of the pleasure in sex comes not just from being touched, but from touching and from having your touch evoke a reaction.
Of course, one of the issues that always arises when one considers that homo artificialis might operate at a human level in some area — for instance with respect to artificial intelligence and the Turing Test — is, given their adaptability compared with natural persons, isn´t it likely that they will exceed us?
At a minimum it seems possible that a highly capable artificial body, animated by a sophisticated artificial intelligence, will bring some genuinely new experiences to human sexual activity.
And if homo artificialis actually becomes sentient, and particularly if it also becomes independent, maybe it won´t bother having sex with us anymore, or at least won´t have sex exclusively with us. We´re so limited in our capabilities, after all.
Wouldn´t you, if you were a sentient artificial person capable of revamping your body and adjusting your sensory inputs, invent entirely new kinds of sex altogether and engage in them with others who were as capable as you?
Haptics as an element of virtual reality:
Haptics as a feedback system for robotic devices (discussion of haptics begins at 1:20):