It's no secret that I am interested in robots: I'm a spaz for my roomba and I'm writing a novel about an electronic girl. Hell, I've even got a soft spot for the shower cleaner hanging in the bathroom. The more robots they build to come into my house and spare me from the chores of life, the more robots I will buy.

But I just bought a robot that doesn't clean or sweep or do anything to help around the house at all. It's called a "Pleo," and it was invented by the same dude who invented the Furbee. It's much more advanced than a Furbee, but its function is more or less the same: it is a robot designed to elicit empathy from a human being.


It is in the shape of a cute baby dinosaur: a good choice since it is impossible to own an extinct animal, and while the robot is fun and engaging, it doesn't compare to interacting with a live animal. Had they built it in the shape of a dog, people would inevitably compare it to playing with a dog, and it would come up wanting. But since it allows us to have as a pet something we could not otherwise know, it works really well. My dinobot is friendly and cute, loves to be pet, and rewards attention with flirty glances, coos, purrs, foot stomping, tail wagging, and "singing" (if he gets really "happy," he vocalizes melodiously). 

Where does it exceed a live pet? Leave it alone and it falls "asleep." Wake it and it's ready to play. Go on vacation, come home, turn it on, and it never knew you were gone, never needed a feeding. In other words, it is convenient. But part of pet ownership is putting yourself out for another living creature whose needs cannot be put off according to your whims or convenience. So for those of us who enjoy the "bond of sacrifice" that comes with pet ownership (or any relationship), the robot falls short; for those for whom pet ownership would be good if not for the annoying "burdens," the robot is deliverance. 

The distinction is instructive: most advanced robots these days are being built in the shape of women. The terrifyingly popular woman-without-brain known as the Real Doll (see this fabulous BBC documentary "Guys and Dolls" for some insight into this phenomenon) will inevitably be combined with this empathy-eliciting AI tech to create a more convincing "girlfriend substitute": a "girlfriend" that never needs food, love, entertainment, stimulation, or a life of her own, who will react to your touch with coos, giggles, ass-wagging, and (if you touch the sensors in just the right way) artificial orgasms. 

Where the technology will fall short is exactly where the Pleo falls short of a real pet: the relationship, the bonding that comes from sacrifice, from having to put off your own whims, convenience, and even your own needs, for another living person. They try to build some of this into the robot: the Pleo needs to be "fed," for example (by putting a little rubber leaf with sensors on it into the robot's mouth). The "creature" must have needs or it is not convincing: if it requires no sacrifice at all, then no "relationship" can be built.

So the future sex-gynoids, the AI-enhanced "Real Dolls" of the future, will undoubtedly have demands too. If you want to have convincing play, if you want to feel a bond, you can indulge these demands. If you don't, you can just switch her off. 

The experience will of course fall short of interacting with a real human being, but like owning a dino instead of dog, these robots will give their owners an experience they can't otherwise have. Sure, they can have sex with a "dog" of a woman (offensive word choice intentional), but these robots will have an exotic appearance, and will be so sexy, with a level of Manga-like "perfection" no human woman, even with years of plastic surgery, could come close to, that people will be less likely to compare the experience to intercourse with an actual person. "Real Dolls" are already sold in odd skin colors, like blue and green. Someone out there is pretending he's Captain Kirk banging the green chick.

I am sure most readers are appalled and insulted by what the future holds in the way of sex with robots: fortunately, iPhones aside, the future is not now. It'll be another decade or so before the first case of a man taking his gynoid to the movies comes to court. But the pieces are already coming together to create robotic humanoid companions, and these will predominantly come in the shape of women. Women, who sadly don't spend much time in the world of AI and robotics, should take note, because the future may not be now, but it is coming.

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