A.I. Intimacy

In Spike Jonze’s new movie Her (trailer above), a man develops a romantic relationship with “Samantha,” a computer operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Liat Clark wonders if this premise isn’t such a stretch, asking, “In an age where we love to anthropomorphise our products — with the odd few even falling in love with dolls or marrying virtual girlfriends — is it really that unlikely someone might form a bond with a disembodied companion that sounds like a 40s pinup and can hold a conversation?”

“To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Mike Burns, CEO of Fuel Entertainment, the company behind the virtual world for 8-to-12-year-old girls SparkCityWorld.com, told Wired.co.uk. In October his service launched a virtual boyfriends feature where users experience the “developing of a relationship” — in the weeks that followed, engagement time doubled. “The fewer barriers between us and our computers, or the more we can employ instinctual communication techniques and emotions while creating, playing, consuming and interacting, the more difficult it will be to define the line between human and machine. Slipping into something like an Oculus Rift after a long day is going to look mighty enticing for many people.”

The adult world is already oversaturated with such offerings.

Invisible Girlfriend launched in November, promising to help you catfish yourself — the $49.99 Almost Engaged plan delivers custom characterisation and live phone calls. The romance factor isn’t exactly high, but it takes the hassle out of actually having to meet a girl while you retain the envy and respect of your peers (at least, we’re guessing that’s the pitch to the young and lonely). Meanwhile Nintendo DS game LovePlus continues to delight and amuse, with one 27-year-old marrying his virtual girlfriend Nene Anegasaki months after the game’s 2009 launch.

Meanwhile, Callie Beusman considers a recent report on the future of sex and relationships, concluding that “robot sex” is “on the horizon, guys!”

Several sex machines exist already — one example touted by leading robot sexuality lecturer Laura G. Duncan in an interview with Thought Catalog has been eloquently dubbed “Fuckzilla.” “Fuckzilla is basically designed like Johnny Five, she explained. “It has appendages, and one arm is a penetrating dildo. The other is a chainsaw that’s had the chain removed, and it’s been replaced with these silicon molded tongues that make a circular motion.” In a more traditionally romantic take on the matter, David Levy, the author of Love and Sex With Robots, speculates that people will be marrying machines by 2050.

A less drastic (i.e., more likely to be used by humans soon) representation of this same concept is teledildonics, or sex toys that can be controlled by a computer. “Sexual devices that you can remotely control already exist, but they’ll catch on more,” Young told me. “Within the next 2-3 years, stores offering devices of that sort will open up.” Frankly, I’m surprised that the proliferation of teledildonic apps hasn’t started already. It’s something that could easily sync up to any extant model of any sex toy, and it could very easily be monetized for long-distance relationships — or, eventually, long-distance casual encounters.