NSFW, sexually vivid, and touches on sensitive socio-political topics.
You’ve been warned!
If you haven’t already, highly recommend reading part 1 first.
TL;DR (part 2)
- Quickly dissolving social stigma around sex and love, including increasing openness to alternative sexual preferences, as well as technology-augmented masturbation and dating apps, lays the groundwork for the third sexual revolution.
- The third sexual revolution commences as soon as sex robots cross the uncanny valley. Realistic enough for many to actually prefer them over humans, and even develop deep intimate connections with them.
- This raises a lot of difficult questions around the future of relationships, loneliness, sexual asymmetries, fertility, ethics, economics, and more.
- This post intends more to pose these questions rather than just provide speculative answers.
- Going further, maybe the fourth sexual revolution will see humans transcending biological sexual desires entirely, and fulfilling all desires through a simulated virtual reality.
Part 1 (previous post)
- 1. Would you consider that cheating?: a dialogue between friends
- 2. Silicone valleys crossing the uncanny valley: brief overview of the technological enablers (hardware and software)
- 3. The power of the pill: throwback to the second sexual revolution and its colossal societal changes
Part 2 (this post)
- 4. Precursors to the third sexual revolution: shifting stigma around porn, sex toys, and dating apps
- 5. The third sexual revolution: questions on aspects such as loneliness, sexual asymmetries, androidism, parenting, ethics, and transhumanism
- 6. Fourth and beyond: virtual reality, brain-machine interfaces, and where to from here
4. Precursors to the third sexual revolution
The first sexual revolution (early 20th century) commenced dissolving the social stigma on female sexuality and the norms set by of traditional religious institutions.
The second sexual revolution (mid-late 20th century) disentangled sex from the burden of reproduction. By extension, it modularized the 3 elements of sex: pleasure, reproduction, and love.
“Love is no longer a prerequisite for sexual intimacy; and nor, for that matter, is intimacy a prerequisite for sex.” – Second Sexual Revolution revisited, Time
This initiated a cascade of progressive laws as well as a general trend towards more open views about sexuality. Sexuality, not just regarding women but also towards those with alternative preferences.
The third sexual revolution begins as soon as sex robots cross the uncanny valley. That is, when sex robots become realistic enough for a significant amount of people to prefer them over humans, and even fall in love with them. Unlike dolls that only offer carnal pleasures, robots could provide both pleasure and love.
Beyond human-machine substitution, this raises a plethora of difficult questions. The spirit of this post is not to provide answers, but more to pose wicked questions for further discussion.
Each revolution carries forward the momentum of the previous. The precursors to the third sexual revolution taking form today are technology-augmented pleasure (porn and sex toys) and love (dating apps).
4.1. Online pornography
There’s two types of people in the world: those that watch porn and liars.
There’s two types of people in the world: those that think everyone watches porn, and everyone else.
There’s two types of people in the world: those that divide the world into two types of people, and everyone else.
Animals masturbate. Humans masturbate. Evolutionary advantage: keep the genitals clean and healthy.
Meanwhile, porn-aided masturbation is a human thing. A relative new human thing for that matter. While erotic art, novels, and stories have been around for many millennia, the mass distribution and easy accessibility to porn has only been around for a decade or two.
The internet and smartphones gave pornography wings. But there were substantial lags between invention and widespread use.
Developed in the 60s for military applications, then for universities, the world wide web only came about in 1989. But even throughout the 90s, internet access to limited to a fraction of the global population. Improved internet speed and cost in the 2000s enabled online porn to gain popularity over mediums like magazines and video tapes. Then came smartphones in the 2010s, allowing many to leapfrog computer ownership entirely, as well as enable more private viewing.
Since porn is consumed privately, social stigma was less of a barrier to widespread adoption – the bottlenecks were more technological and commercial. Although, increasingly social acceptability is likely a key contributor to the sharp rise in female viewership over the past decade.
(There’s also live webcams, but I consider that as just more interactive porn.)
On one hand, we should celebrate the mass distribution of pleasure assisting content. There’s clearly a demand for it. If it brings joy who am I to judge what people do in their private lives?
On another hand, there’s several well-known issues: exploitation in the industry, child pornography, easy access to minors, misleading sex education for minors, frequent portrayal of women as victims of dominance / violence, and so on.
There’s also the physiological changes that PMO (porn-masturbation-orgasm) has on the brain. Pornography cheats the dopamine reward circuit by providing a short circuit to orgasm, in 3 ways.
First, it’s an easy route to orgasm. It’s a few clicks away.
“With internet porn, a guy can see more hot babes in 10 minutes than his ancestors could see in several life times.” – The great porn experiment (TED talk)
Second, it provides novelty. The Coolidge Effect.
“It’s not mere nudity, but novel that gets arousal skyrocketing… Each new female on a guy’s screen is presented as a new genetic opportunity.”
Third, porn is a super stimuli – conspicuously exaggerated bodies and sex sequences. Much like refined sugars offering pleasures magnitudes beyond what’s naturally available. Porn accentuates super-human secondary sexual characteristics – “tits or ass” in vernacular – through surgical and cosmetic enhancements, chemical enhancements (viagra), and digital enhancements (editing).
Excess chronic porn consumption based on the innate binge mechanism creates even more cravings than the previous baseline. Over time, it takes more novelty and exaggeration to get aroused. Such desensitization often leads to sexual arousal disorder (erectile dysfunction for men). Reversing these effects for a healthier and happier lifestyle has been the primary motivator behind the “no fap” movement (first no porn-aided masturbation, then eventually, no masturbation at all).
In contrast to porn, real sex involves interactions, courtship, pheromones, and emotional connections. If porn has short circuited all of this, sex robots may amplify this short circuit by providing an unprecedented realism to masturbation. In such a world, whatever effects porn has on long-term health and happiness, it’d be an order of magnitude multiplied.
More on no fap:
“Felt more energy… I took more care of myself. Spiritually, mentally, and physically. I felt better and people started to notice that… Not saying you should stop masturbating, but I am saying stop watching nasty porn because that is messing with your brain.”
4.2. Sex toy aided masturbation
In many ways, sex toys share many parallels with pornography. It enables pleasures otherwise not possible alone. And in many cases, pleasures not possible even with another person. This exposes frequent users with risks of desensitization.
Another parallel is the shifting social stigma. Take vibrators for example. It was developed in the late 19th century to treat women of ‘hysteria’ – which was really just sexual frustration. By the early 20th century, it was marketed as a professional medical home appliance. But this social camouflage faded in the late 1920s as physicians began to better understand female sexuality. Medical vibrators gradually disappeared from the shelves. By the time it re-emerged in the 60s, it had been democratized to consumers by openly marketing it as a sex aid.
Similarly, blow-up dolls first made an appearance in the 70s but was more of a novelty joke item. It was actually banned in the UK in the late 80s on prudish grounds. It wasn’t until the mid-90s when more realistic silicone sex dolls become a public commercial reality.
Masturbation continues to be condemned as unchaste in many parts of the world, and sex toy aided masturbation is stigmatized even further. But recent decades have shown us how quickly societal views can change. As strange or unusual sex robot aided masturbation may seem today, it’s reasonable to believe that this too can change quickly, riding on the momentum changing views on sex toy use.
4.3. Dating apps and finding love
For most of human history, choosing your life partner was dictated by social class, geographic proximity, and familial arrangements. Urbanization and the big city life changed much of this. More options and more freedom. But people now faced new challenges: figuring out who’s available, interested, and fits their deal-breaker criteria (e.g. height, non-smoker, religion).
And as the pool of potential partners expanded, there was also more competition. Generally speaking, economic pressures mounted for men, and beauty pressures mounted for women. Hypergamy (marrying up to a higher social class) became more common. Resulting in “leftover” men and women. And spawning all sorts of sub-cultures like incels (involuntary celibates), and MGTOW (men going their own way). For some it’s a conscious personal choice, and for many others, it’s a settled reality given no other options.
In some Chinese cities, there’s even marriage markets where impatient parents take matchmaking into their own hands.
Highly encourage you to watch the full 4 min video – it’ll put the rest of this post into perspective:
Online dating was the next critical juncture in redefining how couples meet – again with the internet and smartphones being the key catalysts.
For those less familiar with dating apps, they usually work like this: set up a profile, app verifies you via your social media, articulate who you are, set your preferences (seeking men/women, age, height etc), like various profiles according to your taste, if they like you back, start chatting and go from there.
Dating apps offer several advantages over other means:
- (i) More choice. Bigger pool than just through family, friends, work, and other activities.
- (ii) All choices are already fit your set ‘non-negotiable’ / ‘deal breaker’ preferences.
- (iii) More efficient. An hour or two spread over a week on an app and you have yourself a few dates for the following week.
- (iv) Fourth, safety. Weed out creeps before meeting them in person.
- (v) Many apps have machine learning matching algorithms that improves the quality of matches.
Within a decade, online dating – initially taking form as websites and now more common as mobile apps – ascended from being the least popular way to the most common way couples meet.
(Note the spike in “met in bar or restaurant” coinciding with the spike in “met online.” Statisticians have a fancy word for this: liars. There’s a good chance many couples claim to have met at a bar as that’s where they technically first met in-person, but were embarrassed to admit the conversation originated online.)
But the introduction of dating apps did not immediately lead to widespread use. There was a substantial social stigma barrier to be overcome. Widespread acceptability is a pre-requisite for widespread use. For dating apps, it took several years for the adoption chasm to be crossed.
I personally relate to this. I remember when Tinder came out in 2013, most of my friends and I brushed it off as a sleazy hook-up app. The concept of meeting someone online was generally regarded as a channel reserved for those without any other options. Many Tinder couples even lied about how they met when people asked. Look how quickly times have changed.
In stark contrast to online porn where the barriers were technological and commercial, barriers to dating apps were more sociological. Perhaps the same may apply for sex robots. First, it’s an obscure stigmatized novelty. Then, it becomes increasing common. And one day, it’s the norm.
Now that it is the norm, we could say that dating has been disentangled from the rest of social life, work life, and community life. Perhaps dating apps are popular at this point in history because people wanted to separate the environment for dating and sex against everything else.
“People used to meet people at work, but my God, it doesn’t seem like the best idea to do that right now… For better or worse, people are setting up firmer boundaries between the personal and the professional. And we’re figuring all that stuff out, but it’s kind of a tumultuous time.” – How Tinder Changed Dating, The Atlantic.
Overall, I truly believe the proliferation of dating apps has been a net positive. I know many that have found their lifelong partners through apps. It works. I think people continue to under-estimate just how substantive this shift in the way couples meet was.
But nothing comes free. There’s the catfishing problem (luring someone into a date/relationship based on an exaggerated or fictional online persona). As well as those on apps simply for “confidence-boosting procrastination.”
And a more significant and lasting problem is the way dating apps subconsciously alter the way people choose their partner, and by extension, how they build human relationships.
Swiping left or right based only on a few photos and words accentuates superficial, judgemental tendencies. For some, it makes them more picky, as well as more impatient – living up to the stereotype of the instant generation. Perceiving a profile as a disposable commodity manifests the paradox of abundance. The more accessible and easy it is to get a date, the less you actually appreciate it.
So it’s reasonable to fear that sex robots would reinforce this recently shaped dating-app-influenced mindset of abundant choice. If people are increasingly seeing people are just another profile, imagine what an abundance of choice to sex robots would do to this mindset.
4.4. Lessons from recent history
First comes technology. Then comes commercial viability and distribution to early adopters. Often this is enabled by increased access to ancillary technology – such as the internet and smartphones. Once the adoption chasm is crossed – the cultural taboos and social stigma – we have widespread adoption.
In recent years we’ve seen rapidly changing social attitudes towards sex, masturbation, and intimacy. This has been a complete package of both positive and negative. Echoing this – and not discussed much in this post – are recent strides in LGBTQ acceptance.
This general trend towards increasing openness to diverse sexual preferences and identities lays the groundwork for sex robots to amplify what’s already set in motion.
Now it’s reasonable to argue that porn, sex toys, and dating apps did not, in the grand scheme of things, drastically redefine the nature of relationships. Rather, they complemented and spiced up pre-existing paradigms. However, if sex robots become much more than mere masturbation aids, things may be different.
5. The third sexual revolution
Crossing the uncanny valley need not require 100% realistic sex robots. 95% or so may be enough.
In fact, people may even prefer it that way. We can short-cut the human inconveniences that are a legacies of evolutionary constraints.
Finally, after many paragraphs of context, we now explore what the third sexual revolution could entail.
5.1. Naturalistic fallacy and super stimuli
The first question is: why would anyone choose a sex robot over a human?
It’s natural to be pro-nature. I’m pro-nature. At least, I like to think I am. In most cases, nature is triumphant – Darwinian optimization produces remarkably antifragile systems. But in many others, we have turned our backs on nature out of convenience.
Look at the modern food industry. Sugar, salt, and fat have proliferated supermarket aisles and restaurants. Even for wholefoods, selective breeding (and in some cases outright genetic modification) has yielded fresh produce that grows faster, bigger, tastier, easier to eat (e.g. seedless), easier to grow (in tougher soil types/weather), easier to sell (longer shelf life), etc.
Sure, there will always be those that pay premiums for organics etc. But if the artificial option offers superior utility value (with food it’s taste, with sex it’s pleasure), at a cheaper price, with more purchasing convenience, the mainstream will adopt it.
So even if people know that sex robots are not natural, given enough time and repetitive exposure, they may be accepted as just as good as real. And eventually, preferred over the real.
Would sex robots be an additional item reflecting social stratification? Upper classes eating healthy organics and having human-human sex, while lower classes eat unhealthy synthetics and having human-robot sex.
5.2. Complementarity, modularity, and substitution
Complementarity typically precedes outright substitution.
Rather than rendering human sex redundant, maybe ultra-realistic sex robots will complement the existing, albeit highly transient, dynamic of human sex lives. As with sex toys today, there will be wide variance in how it’ll be used.
- Those in healthy relationships may incorporate robots into their sex lives to spice things up – similar to the use of adult toys.
- Or to take things further, some couples may have a mutual pseudo-polygamous arrangement where ‘polygamy’ is allowed but only with other robots, not other humans.
- Some couples may might modularize sex. Human-human for love, intimacy, and companionship. Human-robot for pure physical sex. Human-human for reproduction.
- In such a scenario, does physical attraction become less relevant in forming a romantic relationship?
- Would monogamous intimacy be inherently restrictive?
There’s temporary substitution:
- For the young, career-focused, insecure-overachiever singles that don’t have the time or energy to date, sex robots are just a convenience to meet sexual desires
- Similarly, for those in long distance relationships, sex robots are just fancy masturbation aids
And finally, there’s permanent substitution:
- For those that really don’t want a human-human relationship, in similar fashion to those that choose to remain single their whole lives
- For those that are lonely – widows, widowers, the mentally disabled, those living in remote communities etc – sex robots are also emotional aids (more on this in 5.4)
- And for those that visit sex workers, sex robots may be a lasting alternative.
Let’s explore the implications of ultra-realistic sex robots on sex workers further.
5.3. Sex workers
To what extent would sex robots substitute human sex workers? (Note: many consider the term ‘prostitute’ to be connotative of criminality and immorality).
Could they be a savior welcomed by modern-day slaves and other victims of sexual exploitation? From young women tricked into pornography trap contracts, to debt slave immigrants.
Or would the popularity of sex robots further exacerbate the sex work dynamic of objectification and echo existing power asymmetries? Where they exist, would non-empathetic masturbation-aid-mindsets spillover into long-term human-human relationships?
Or would they be in direct competition with a large number of sex workers that are in the profession by personal, non-coerced choice? If demand for human sex workers shrinks drastically, could we see sex tourist and sexpat hot spots like Pattaya turn into ghost towns?
Or maybe it’s less about decreasing demand, and more about the changing nature of demand. People see sex workers not just for sex but also for emotional reasons – validation, companionship, loneliness etc.
“A lot of my job has to do with nonsexual intimacy. I’m creating a connection with them. They talk to me about their troubles … it’s a lot of genuine human connection. I do have clients who don’t have sex at all and they just want to cuddle and talk to me.” – sex worker from US
Would human sex workers shift their value proposition towards escort-type companionship services? Like sugar babies? Or rental boyfriends/girlfriends? Or would these services be just as disrupted too?
There’s substantial legal variation among countries (and within) regarding sex work. So it’ll also be interesting to see how different jurisdictions will regulate the use of sex robots.
“Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.” – Alain de Botton, On Love
When the first “test tube baby” (conceived via IVF) was born in 1978, many freaked out on premises of hubristic pro-creation. But many others struggling with infertility were inspired with hope. 40 years on, there are over 500k IVF-assisted deliveries every year.
Similarly, could those that are loneliest today – widows and widowers, the infertile, mentally disabled, those in remote communities – find hope with sex robots? Such segments may be seeking companionship more so than fulfilling sexual desires. So perhaps, it’s more appropriate to call them companion robots, but I’ll stick to sex robots just for consistency.
So sex robots could be a treatment to loneliness. There’s already people out there that have overcome loneliness through sex dolls. And adoption would likely increase if sex dolls can start talking and become more realistic.
But I fear that sex robots could also increase loneliness. If people choose to discard human-human relationships entirely, the reinforcing network effects could quickly establish a new normal within just one generation. And what’s scary about this is it may be very difficult to undo. What’s happening now in Japan presents some clues on such dangers.
5.5. Easy sex
Besides loneliness, perhaps many may choose sex robots to escape the harsh reality of human-human courtship. Sex robots come at no emotional cost, and there’s no need to face the fear of rejection. While sex workers also solve this problem, human sex workers often come with other barriers – legal in many jurisdictions, safety concerns, hygiene, accessibility, cost etc.
Plus there’s the disproportionate supply of male sex workers – most likely reflective of the disproportionate demand, but there may be more considerations here. So it’ll also be interesting to see how sex robots would affect men and women in different ways. While it may be natural to presume that sex robots would be used more by men than woman, if we consider the diverse biological sexual asymmetries – orgasms, for example – who knows, maybe more women would turn to robots.
But when good sex becomes that easy, it’s likely that chronic users will develop a warped perception of reality, followed by desensitization and other psychological issues – similar to pornography as discussed earlier. Since the sex is likely to be better, it may be difficult for people to go back to human sex, even if they want to.
And is it likely that sex robots instill unrealistic expectations on younger generations that only intended to use them for temporary curiosity? If so, what implications does this have not just on healthy human-human relationships, but also on the fertility and continuity of our species?
5.6. Sexual asymmetries
Some asymmetries are biological: hormones, genitals, reproductive roles, orgasms etc.
Others are more cultural: women receive far more sexual objectification, body-shaming, hypersexualization, unrealistic beauty standards, plastic surgery pressure than men. Many pre-sexual revolution double standards persist in many places. Male polygamy “player”, female polygamy “slut.”
“Have you done it? If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap.” – The Breakfast Club
Most porn is directed by men and created for men. I mean sure, Barbie dolls now come in more diverse body shapes, but it’ll take a lot more to influence the powerful systematic social forces.
So far, sex dolls – the primitive precursor to sex robots – have predominantly taken on female forms for male use. There’s also plenty of stereotypes in what men look for in a partner versus what women look for.
The question is which asymmetries will sex robots offset, and which ones would it exacerbate?
One point of asymmetry is the difference in how men and women choose their potential partner.
Men’s ratings of women are distributed quite symmetrically (pink).
In contrast, women’s ratings of men are more harsh (blue).
We can visualize these results as a transfer function: the gender attraction differential.
X-axis is the attractiveness percentile, y-axis is attractiveness on scale to 10. Pink is men’s perception of female attractiveness, blue is women’s perception of male attractiveness. A woman sitting on the 80th percentile (top 20%) is considered by men to be over 9/10 attractive. Whereas a man sitting on the 80th percentile is only a 5/10 attractive in women’s eyes. “You’re not that good looking, but I’ll date you anyway.”
We discussed the pros and cons of dating apps previously. The so what of all this is; if hyper-realistic sex robots that are 10/10 attractive are thrown in, how would it affect the existing asymmetric courtship dynamic?
Would those in the bottom quartiles end up opting for sex robots instead of ‘settling’ with a human partner they deem as unattractive?
Or in a darker scenario, what if everyone just ends up thinking everyone else is very unattractive compared to the robots, making the overwhelming majority settling for sex robots?
Indeed, all of the above questions reductively assume that partner choice is based only on aesthetics – which is clearly not the case. Non-aesthetic characteristics, and in particular, emotional connections often matters more. Which brings us to the next point.
5.7. Beyond agalmatophilia
Some terms for context:
- Agalmatophilia: a sexual attraction to a statue, doll, or mannequin.
- Pygmalionism: feeling of love towards a statue, doll, or mannequin. (Based on the story of Pygmalion where a Greek sculptor creates a beautiful statue and falls in love with it. Story is well-known and has been cited by the likes of Shakespeare.)
- Androidism aka Technofetishism aka alt.sex.fetish.robots (ASFR): those that desire an entirely artificial robot, and even those who themselves desire to be transformed from a human into a robot.
Beyond lustful sexual attraction, is it conceivable for a human to actually fall in love with a robot?
Well, there’s already outlier cases out there. A disproportionate concentration in Japan. So maybe a more meaningful question becomes:
Is it conceivable for a significant portion of humans to fall in love with a robot? Say more than 30% of the population?
Maybe there’s two ways of approaching this question. First, is a neuroscientific angle – identify love as a specific combinations of neurons firing in the brain. Second, is to think about how the way humans give, receive, and feel love has changed over time due to socialization – and on a longer time frame, evolution.
5.8 Fertility and parenting
If we ever get to a stage where the majority of the population has completely ditched sexual/romantic human-human relationships, what does this mean for the reproductive capacity of our species?
Would we see a population collapse?
I guess it depends on the extent to which the imperative of wanting to raise a child is entangled with co-parenting and love.
We’re already seeing inverting population pyramids in some parts of the world.
Would sex robots push fertility rates even lower in these countries?
Then, there’s also parenting. Imagine being a child raised by a human father and robot ‘mother’ (or vice versa). Think about what kind of person this child will grow up to be. Freud was wrong about many things, but he was right about the paramount influence of one’s childhood on their adult behaviour.
In a robot quasi-parent world, would the “secure” types in attachment theory become a rare breed?
5.9. Robot character and sexuality
From Ex Machina:
Caleb: “Why did you give her sexuality? An AI doesn’t need a gender. She could have been a grey box.”
Nathan: “Actually, I don’t think that’s true. Can you give an example of consciousness, at any level, human or animal, that exists without a sexual dimension?”
Caleb: “They have sexuality as an evolutionary reproductive need.”
Nathan: “What imperative does a grey box have to interact with another grey box? Can consciousness exist without interaction? Anyway, sexuality is fun man. If you’re going to exist, why not enjoy it?”
Additional design considerations to make sex robot experiences more realistic:
- Not completely submissive. They get upset at you if it discovers that you ‘cheated’ with another sex robot.
- Give it pleasure sensors. If you don’t reciprocate the pleasures, it won’t be ‘turned on’ to want to pleasure you.
- With adjustable settings for both of the above.
Such realistic built-ins could be a solution to the porn-masturbation-orgasm desensitization problem.
5.10. Robot rights, rape, and abuse
The next few sections hone in on the ethical considerations.
Could robot rape be a thing? When a non-submissive sex robot doesn’t want to have sex, but it is forced but the user.
- Should robots be given rights to protect them from such abuse? Especially if they have consciousness.
- What if conscious robots don’t want to have sex, or provide love to their user for whatever reason?
- Will it encourage violence and rape? (‘gateway’ theory)
- Perhaps it could treat and rehabilitate sex offenders? (‘reduction’ theory)
As absurd as robot rights may sound now, you never know how such views may change in a few decades. Humanoid robot Sophia was granted citizenship of Saudi Arabia in 2017. Then imagine, robot marriages, robot property rights etc.
5.11. Paedophilia, and use by minors
What about child-like sex robots?
- Should their production and use be criminalized?
- Or could they be be put to carefully regulated therapeutic use to treat paedophilia?
- Again these are the ‘gateway’ vs ‘reduction’ theories.
- (Note paedophiles are sexually attracted to children, while child molesters are attracted to adults but abuse children.)
What about use by minors?
- A 14-year old girl is legally free to use a vibrator; just as a 14-year old boy is free to use a fleshlight.
- But should different legal guidelines be applied to the use of realistic sex dolls by teens and children?
Legal questions aside, what about psychological development considerations? Suppose a generation of teens become regular sex doll users. By the time they’re 20, their sexual identities would be completely different to previous generations where it was perfectly normal to be 20 and a virgin. It’s difficult to say what implications these differences would have. But it’s reasonable to assume it’ll be a big deal.
In mid-2015, Ashley Madison, a website that helps married people have affairs, was hacked. Information on millions of users were leaked to the public, and 4 men committed suicide as a result. Privacy is a big deal. Even more so when the data gets this personal. (It was also revealed that the ratio of active users was 20 million men to just 1,500 women.)
When sex robots incorporate the software element, the user data would be as private and personal as data can possibly be.
Imagine if the sex robot ownership costs was made cheaper by opting in to send anonymized usage data to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then sells this data to consumer brands. Tech giants already know a lot about you, but this would take it to the next level.
Also, if someone hacks your sex robot, is that sexual assault?
There’s another aspect to privacy. If a user customizes a sex robot to look like someone that actually exists – could be a celebrity, or someone they personally know – does the sex-robot-transposed individual need to give consent? Would these rules be any different if it was an augmented reality deep fake?
While this post has emphasized societal effects, we’ll touch on the economic considerations.
Sex robots could get very expensive. Today, a silicone doll is priced at a few thousand dollars – about a month’s wage for those living in a developed economy. I wouldn’t be surprised if hyper-realistic sex robots are priced at several months of wages – like buying a car. Or maybe years, like buying a house. Imagine entire financial service divisions geared around sex robot loans and insurance policies.
On the business model side, there’s so many possibilities:
- Ownership: upfront or debt-financed purchase
- Shared subscription/leasing
- Consumption: pay per use, short-term rental
- Franchise. Sex robot pimp?
The second order effects on industry is even more interesting. How will this new industry affect incumbent powers? Who are the biggest winners and losers? Segments of the entertainment industry? Perhaps even cosmetics and clothes?
“Political forms, religious institutions, cultural creations, are all rooted in economic realities. So the Industrial Revolution brought with it democracy, feminism, birth control, socialism, the decline of religion, the loosening of morals, the loosening of literature from dependence upon aristocratic patronage, the replacement of romanticism by realism in fiction – and the economic interpretation of history.” – Lessons of History, Will Durant.
While there’s no standard consensus on the human condition, many expressions include the desire to connect, love, and be loved.
So if a majority of the population fall in love with robots, is it a stretch to say we’re no longer human?
Or could it be considered as just the next evolution of what it means to be human?
This contentious theme of transhumanism will become even more relevant in the fourth sexual revolution.
6. Fourth revolution and beyond
If the indulgence of sex and love in the third sexual revolution seemed conspicuously unnatural, the fourth will sound outright ludicrous.
In the fourth sexual revolution, humans transcend biological sexual desires entirely, and fulfill all desires through a simulated virtual reality. Either through brain-machine interfaces, or ditching the natural biological brain entirely and living purely as uploads.
6.1. Virtual reality
Today, virtual reality only covers vision and sound. To some extent kinesthetics in a mixed reality setting. But imagine getting to complete immersion, as portrayed in Avatar.
Immersive virtual worlds could offer people intense sexual experiences that the material world possibly never could. And not just sexual experiences, but also emotions affiliated with love, intimacy, and companionship. It could also be set-up to have multi-player environments.
But even in such a scenario, our capacity to experience love and pleasure is limited by the physical constraints of our natural biological brains. Everything we experience is bounded by the laws of physics within our biological neural network. Suppose we could take this a step further.
6.2. Brain-machine interfaces and uploads
The notion of brain-machine has been entertained for decades in sci-fi. Biomedical deep brain stimulation techniques have helped treat Parkinson’s since the late 90s. More recently, Elon Musk’s Neuralink garnered plentiful attention as he talked about the solving the input-output bandwidth problems in human communication. Conceptually, we have a lot of the knowledge to get started on this. The bottleneck, for now, seems to fall on engineering.
If brain-machine interfaces become so advanced that everything we experience can be uploaded into a computer, are our original biological brains now just redundant?
If we become conscious entities that live in computers, are we even humans at this point?
Do we even care about the rest of the material world in base level reality, besides the minimum ability to keep the simulation going?
Teasing out such speculations requires a deeper discussion about the notion of the consciousness, free will, the notion of the soul, and other spiritual shenanigans. By this point, the discussion isn’t even about sex anymore – it’s deeper ontological questions. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll look back at sex and love as primitive insignificant pre-occupations of the past.
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