RealDoll, a California-based business specialising in creating lifelike sex-dolls, is working on a robotic prototype.

The company boasts the sex-robot will be able to mimic basic human actions and speak with its users.

Matt McMullen, creator of RealDoll, spoke to the New York Times about the breakthrough creation: “The hope is to create something that will actually arouse someone on an emotional and intellectual level,” he said.

McMullen spoke on camera as part of the New York Times ‘ Robotica as part of The Path video series: ‘Beyond the Physical’.

The dolls will be able to move their heads, blink, and use complex word recognition programs to have conversations with their partners.

The initial estimation is that the robots will hit the market with a price tag between $30,000 and $60,000.

And there will be a market.

The sex-doll industry is huge in affluent parts of Asia. And while it doesn’t occupy the same niche in western countries, there will still be enough of a market to make the venture profitable.

Moreover, predictions support the growth of the industry worldwide.

in 2014, the Pew Research Centre surveyed 1,896 experts on robotics and labour. Those surveyed believed that by 2025 “robotic sex partners will be commonplace”.

The combination of weakening social ties (through the internet) and loss of personal time (through constant handheld communication) meant people would have less time and ability to invest in creating real relationships with real people.

On the supply side: Programming and 3d modelling are improving everyday. So just as the demand for compliant immediate sex partners is rising, so too is their availability.

However, the experts also believed that sex-bots (and those who use them) would struggle to be accepted. There’s a line between a toy and simulacra. Toys, self-evidently, are just for fun; a simulacra is a projection of unfulfilled desire – or so those warning about the social consequences of sex-bots would have us believe.

The whole issue turns on the question of intimacy.

With the current design of sex-bots able to communicate and respond, could they mimic human intimacy enough to create more than just physical pleasure?

Cindy Gallop, CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv spoke about the topic of sex robotics in 2014: “In real life relationships you’re never going to be in control of everything – and that’s the fun and joy of interacting with one another. It left me depressed, quite honestly. That’s not the future of relationships I want to see. The depth and the power and the extraordinariness comes from the unpredictability of interacting with a human being and sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get it right.”

In the video McMullen talks about a dichotomy he calls the ‘Uncanny Valley’. This is an intentional departure from pursuing the real. McMullen feels that any attempt to mimic a real person is not only  doomed to fail, but that the failure would cause revulsion.

His creations, in comparison, are idealised versions of sex partners, not competition for real relationships. “If you keep it far enough away from super-realism,” he said, “I think you’re in safe territory.”

But that said, McMullen is still aiming high: “I want to have people actually develop an emotional attachment … to develop some kind of love for this being.”

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