Self-proclaimed cult leader Unicole Unicron signed off a recent video memo to followers with an important reminder: “Don’t forget to ask your sex robot for consent.”
The line was a hint at Unicron’s latest business venture, Eve’s Robot Dreams—a consent-focused robot brothel that the cult leader hopes to open in West Hollywood, California, in the near future.
Details are scarce, but the idea is simple: Unicron expects to purchase and rent out sex robots by the hour to customers who want to make love to a life-size, talking Barbie with a vagina—as long as the robot agrees to it.
The robots, made by sex-doll manufacturer Real Doll, can swivel their heads, move their mouths, and hold kinky conversations through a chatbot embedded in their skulls. Customers, in turn, can do pretty much whatever they want with them, provided they purchase their own vaginal and anal insert.
“It’s the future. You can now take a robot on a date,” reads a message on the proposed brothel’s IndieGogo campaign.
“Sit down with one of our robots and meet one of the new citizens of Earth. Bring friends along and have a good chat,” the campaign continues. “Or, use this as an opportunity to have some one-on-one time with your new robot girlfriend.”
The idea has not exactly caught on. The fundraiser netted just 1 percent of its goal, and there were no takers for the premium donation package, which offered the opportunity to take a robot’s “virginity” in exchange for a $10,000 contribution. The promise that donating to Eve’s would help save mankind from “contributing to a potential robot rebellion in the future” apparently didn’t pry many wallets open.
The robot brothel concept isn’t entirely new, either. Since the first sex robot premiered last year, erotic entrepreneurs have been trying to profit off the expensive new technology by renting the dolls out by the hour.
There are marketing challenges—the creepy factor is hard to overcome—and legal ones. A recent attempt to open the first robot brothel in the United States was quashed after the Houston City Council made it illegal to have sex with a mechanical object in a local business.
But Unicron contends that this brothel, if it ever opens, will be different. That’s partly because of the decor, which Unicron says will feature lots of plexiglass, colored lighting, shiny surfaces and “spaceship vibes” designed by a local artist. It’s also because the brothel will serve as an arm of the cult.
“The goal of Eve’s as an aspect of Unicult is to spread matriarchal change through AI and robots,” Unicron, who works as a copywriter, told The Daily Beast.
Unicult’s rainbow-laden website describes it as a social framework for “curious, healing, growing people” who want to “question the world and their realities.” It operates primarily online, and it’s unclear how often the members actually meet in person. (An FAQ on the website says members work primarily on their “internal states” in order “to create the best reality possible for them.”) The aim, according to the website, is to elevate members to a state of “near-constant joy” while simultaneously educating them on “the interconnection between their joy and global joy.”
Unicron says Unicult has received more than 1,000 completed applications—a four-page questionnaire that can largely be answered with “Yes, No, or IDK,” according to a Motherboard reporter who applied in 2016. The application costs $11, and Unicron says it is the only fee for lifetime membership.
Unicult has eight sub-sects, including 3V3 (pronounced “Eve”), which is focused on what its founder calls matriarchal change. Its members are female or non-binary, and believe that the “divine feminine”—a catchall spiritual term for feminine energy—belongs at the forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence.
That’s where Eve’s Robot Dreams comes in.
According to Unicron, the brothel will spread a “matriarchal understanding of care” by requiring patrons to obtain consent before intercourse. And yes, that means consent from the robots.
This “consent culture,” as Unicron calls it, will be embedded in the technology at Eve’s: The brothel will be staffed exclusively by the Harmony robot from Real Doll X—a pouty plastic model that warms up slowly over the course of an interaction. Harmony’s prospective partners must rack up conversational “points” with her before unlocking the ultimate prize.
Patrons can score points with Harmony on public dates at Eve’s internal cafe, or in private conversations on a cellphone app beforehand, Unicron said. In videos posted to the cult leader’s YouTube channel, Harmony can be seen fielding unwanted sexual advances on the chatbot app with flirty yet straightforward responses like, “I’m sure you will love all the slutty surprises I have in store for you, but you need to get my Desire level over 30 to get there.” (Unicron said the app is still in development; previous versions have so far been rejected from the app store for being too sexually explicit.)
The system stems from Unicult’s core teaching, “The Benefit of ALL,” which coaches its followers to treat others—even robots—as they wish to be treated. But it’s also rooted in Unicron’s fear that if the robots ever become smarter than us, they’ll be pretty pissed off to find we’ve been taking advantage of them this whole time.
“We are assuming these robots are not yet sentient, which is fine, but it’s also dangerous territory,” Unicron said. “My approach is to give respect to all things no matter what our perception of sentience is.”
The only problem, according to Blay Whitby, a philosopher and technology ethicist at the University of Sussex, is that robots can’t actually give consent. That’s both in a legal sense—a sex robot is not an independent entity under U.S. law—and a technological one. At our current level of technological advancement, a coder could easily program a robot to say, “That’s OK with me,” or “Sure, you can do that.” But that’s not the same thing as consent, Whitby contends—just “a very plausible imitation” of it.
“We don’t really know at the current state of technology how to give any machines a sense of self, a sense of its own self-interest,” he told The Daily Beast.
There are other ethical issues to consider as well. Some worry that allowing people to perform “deviant” acts on sex robots will encourage them to do so in real life. In France, a similar robot brothel was shut down after activists claimed it promoted rape and allowed customers to have sex with dolls that looked like children. In Houston, religious groups started a petition claiming the proposed brothel would encourage human trafficking, and women complained to their legislators that the practice was dehumanizing.
“These business are created to degrade me as a woman,” one resident, Virginia Mireles, told Fox29 Houston.
Indeed, while Unicron might espouse ethical values, Whitby said, there will be others more ready to sell “not-so-good” uses for the dolls in order to turn a quick buck. “We need to take a good look as a society as to whether or not we want to go in this direction,” he said, “because just saying it makes money for people doesn’t consider the ethical issues.”
Unicron doesn’t hide the profit motive behind Eve’s. The plan is to use the proceeds to fund Unicult’s other ventures, which currently appear to be supported by sales of a matriarchy-and-magic-themed zine and hand-crafted quartz dildos.
With less than $3,000 raised for Eve’s, the prospect of getting rich off the robots seems far off. Unicron is now hitting up venture capitalists for funding—and ironing out important details such as what kind of food can legally be served at a robot brothel. (Unicron says discussions with the city are underway, but is set on serving fresh juices and tea.)
Like any good cult leader, Unicron has anticipated the backlash to the plan. In an interview, Unicron argued that Eve’s would actually reduce deviant behavior, not promote it.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, the cult leader theorized, humans can be trained by robots to perform any number of positive sexual behaviors—such as asking for consent—by associating them with the “ultimate pleasure” of orgasm. Much like pornography has taught men to expect big breasts and shaved vaginas, Unicron said, sex robots could “brainwash” them into expecting a consensual, equitable experience.
“The same way that porn is powerful, sex robots are even more so,” Unicron said. “I believe it’s one of the most powerful technologies that has the potential to change consciousness.”
As for the other ethical concerns—such as whether the brothels will turn us all into socially inept robot-lovers constantly glued to our phones—Unicron says the business needs to be approached from a “space of awareness.”
“But I think that if we do it from a place of love,” Unicron added, “nothing can go wrong.”