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Sex robots in 2022: What’s happened in the last four years?

In 2018, Business Leader investigated the fledgling world of sex robots. We discovered an industry very much in its infancy. Sex robots were a new and developing technology and the industry was just beginning to create a buzz on the international stage. We’ve now revisited the industry four years later to see how much it has changed.

During our original investigation, we discovered that there was a large demand for these machines and a desire to create artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the sex robot users’ experience. As is often the case in the area of technological innovation, the tech was new but developing at an extremely fast rate. Some experts predicted that the rate of technological innovation in the sector would soon outstrip the necessary regulations.

We also discovered widely varied opinions on the moral and ethical concerns surrounding sex robots and their usage.

Changing trends for changing times

The world has changed dramatically since 2018. Civil unrest in Hong Kong, war in Europe and undoubtedly the most life-changing event in living memory – the Covid pandemic. As the world locked down and streets became deserted, online activity skyrocketed.

Before the pandemic, less than half of Britons said they preferred online shopping to buying goods in a physical shop. According to a survey by Reuters, since the coronavirus pandemic, around 70% of Brits now state that they prefer making purchases online and through their mobile phones than in a physical store. This is a huge and dramatic shift in purchasing habits.

Part of this increase in online shopping was due to an increased demand for sex toys and sex tech. According to statistics from the adult brand Womaniser, online sex toy sales in the UK grew by 13% in 2020. This trend has been seen around the globe. In Canada, a 135% increase in sex toy sales was recorded and in Italy, sales increased by 71% during the first lockdown.

A society in need of sex

During the pandemic, we were constantly advised to limit human contact. Single adults were isolated and banned from even the most innocent of human contact. Even some couples were separated by distance and unable to connect in the most natural human way. As traditional methods of dating and engaging in sexual relationships were curtailed, people sought different methods of stimulation.

Alongside the increase in sex toy sales, sites such as Onlyfans saw a huge increase in member registration. Some top performers on the site made eye-watering sums of money with some six-figure amounts being recorded in just one month. Female online content creators had found a way to interact with a sexually frustrated client base from the safety of their homes.

With so much time spent at home, many people began to search for new ways to fulfil their sexual desires in a safe way. According to Florida-based company Sex Doll Genie, demand for their products increased by over 51% during February and March 2020. They also state that interest in their products has come from male and female singles as well as both straight and same-sex couples. Sex Doll Genie is currently developing its own sex robot which will simulate breathing and have a robotic heartbeat.

How have sex robots advanced since 2018?

In 2018, the sex robot company RealDoll released the first-ever sex robot that used AI and was capable of learning. Harmony was programmed to react to its users’ preferences through a purpose-built app which could be adjusted depending on user requirements. In 2022, RealDoll still lead the sex robot industry for innovation and is planning to release its first-ever male sex robot this year.

CEO of RealDoll subdivision Realbotix states that developing the AI software for Henry, the new male sex robot was complex. Alongside creating a new gender for the robot, they also had to create a sexual preference in the profile which would appeal to the female market. Henry certainly seems set to appeal. According to early statements, Henry will be totally AI-activated and will feature a fully functioning penis, strong enough to lift a truck.

Other advancements in sex robot technology for both male and female sex robots have been developed by Realrobotix. The experts are looking at ways to incorporate self-heating, self-lubricating erogenous zones into the robots. Safety concerns, however, mean that the new generation of sex robots may not be ready for the general public for several years. Of course, when a robotic arm mechanism is strong enough to lift a car when using it as a sexual partner, it must be rigorously tested for safety.

Lack of regulation poses a moral, psychological, and physical threat

According to a team of US researchers, sex robots with AI are being developed in a completely unregulated domain. They say that the latest sex robot technology is escaping regulation because agencies are embarrassed about conducting in-depth investigations.

Dr Christine Hendren of Duke University suggested that ‘some robots are programmed… to create a rape scenario.’ This is a hugely grey area, as one side of the argument suggests that this will prevent real-life rape, while opponents suggest it will affirm a rapist’s desires.

In Japan, the ultimate sexual taboo is already being addressed through sex robotics. One Japanese developer and self-confessed paedophile has developed a sex robot that looks like a child. He says that the device is a prophylactic which will help him to fulfil his sexual desires and prevent him from ever abusing a real child. Critics say that this will merely enable him to practice his desires before taking a drastic step and repeating the actions in real life.

Whatever their stance, either pro or against sex robots being used to fulfil sexual taboos, most people agree that industry legislation is severely lacking.

What is the future for sex robots?

The future of sex robots will involve a combination of AI and human-like physical reactions. The current Harmony doll from RealDoll has a choice of 20 different personality aspects. Users can choose up to six different attributes which include traits such as shyness, kindness, insecurity, jealousy, humour, talkativeness, intellectuality, and happiness.

The AI used in Harmony is designed to artificially learn. Harmony can learn your preferences regarding food, entertainment, music, and of course – your sexual preferences. She can learn about your past, your family, and process this information to create a hyper-realistic conversation. Future more advanced sex robots will be designed to streamline this artificial learning process to make conversing with a sex robot increasingly realistic.

In terms of simulating physical reactions, a combination of internal and external sensors is currently being developed. These sensors will be touch-sensitive and connected to the robots’ heating system. They will react to human contact and respond appropriately.

Future robots will also incorporate facial recognition technology so that they can recognise their user and differentiate between people they know and those they’ve never met. Eventually, sex robots will become fully mobile, able to walk, talk, and react like a human.

One thing a sex robot will never do, however, is become truly empathetic. When it’s possible to have a relationship with a robot with no need to ever compromise, the question remains – how will this affect our ability to form real-life relationships?

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