Forget raging against the machine: Some people would rather get nasty with it instead. A new survey has found that one in five U.K.-dwellers would be willing to have sex with robots, marking something of a leap in the realm of digitized romance.
Over 2,000 people were quizzed on their attitudes toward androids—with less than favorable results. Forty-six percent of participants said they felt that technology was progressing too quickly, while a third expressed fears that automatons posed a serious threat to humanity. The same number also believed that robots may soon replace key jobs, including those of soldiers, cops and teachers.
Middlesex University’s Professor Martin Smith, who oversaw the study, said, “While many of us worry about the role of technology and machines in modern society, robots are increasingly being developed for important roles that will help protect and improve our lives.” Protecting and improving is one thing, but replacing significant others in the bedroom does seem like a bit of a jump. Sure, a robot may perform all the necessary…functions, but just how much intimacy can be created between a human and a piece of erratically moving machinery?
The transformation of courtship from quaint meet cutes to exchanging crotch-shots with anybody inside a five-mile radius looks like it’s taking its toll, big time. If online dating has already eradicated a huge chunk of the way we develop our capacity for closeness, won’t robotic bedmates make the situation even worse?
“It seems to have got to the stage where people would rather have sex with something that knows exactly what it’s doing, where we know exactly how it will react, and how long it will take, and how good it will be,” adds Anna Hughes, a schoolteacher with a long-term boyfriend. “But this obliterates the excitement of the uncertainty of being with a living person and the risk of it all going wrong, which is big part of having sex with someone in the first place. I’m just glad I got into a relationship before sleeping with C-3PO became the norm.”
With 46% of those surveyed admitting that they’d either get under the covers with a sexbot or not judge those who choose to, that’s a fair proportion of people prepared to embrace getting dirty with droids. This isn’t a uniquely U.K. trend, though: Sex between live humans has been steadily sloping downwards in numerous countries around the world, including Japan, where nearly half of women aged 16-24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact.” And this isn’t just a problem across the one gender—there’s also a burgeoning movement called otaku, which denotes the rising number of men opting for relationships with virtual lady friends in the absence of real ones. These so-called “herbivores”—young men who show no carnal desire—also fare badly when it comes to the figures, with 36% professing zero inclination whatsoever in getting it on. Many members of the otaku clan were able to maintain relationships with the opposite sex, but only if they existed in the form of computer games. Which kind of, y’know, isn’t like maintaining a relationship at all.
In a sense, this ever-growing self-reliance we can equip ourselves with is impressive, and looks like a fast track to peak level independence. Beneath this sisters (and misters)-doing-it-for-themselves shtick, though, this kind of living could be coming at a hefty price—namely the dissolution of any and all intimacy, ever. Because it’s one thing to want to make it on your own, but using robotic surrogates for situations that require the warmth of another person, either physically or emotionally, is surely not something we should be casually trading in.
Professor Smith also makes the case for future droids becoming quasi-sentient—with pre-programmed sentience, that is. “Robots will be able to show most, if not all, of the signs and behaviours of emotional intelligence…The robots will not feel, but like actors they will be able to show emotional intelligence.” (Because that’s exactly what we need—more personality-deficient beings to act interested and then not call afterwards.)
With suggestions that these technological advances are only mere decades away, the prospect of normalized automaton sexy-time has never posed so provocatively on the horizon. But let’s not forget that while robots are cool in that play-with-it-a-few-times-before-you-accidentally-semi-break-it-and-then-lock-it-in-a-forgotten-cupboard-for-eternity way, shelling out for a chunk of plastic that’s been programmed to sleep with you is probably a route best avoided.