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Come January, the “Westworld” concept of lifelike sex robots will get one step closer.That’s when a San Marcos company will unveil Harmony, an anatomically correct sex doll with a patented animatronic talking head with programmable personality and memory.
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News of creator Matt Mc Mullen’s latest invention — he’s been making lifelike silicone sex dolls for 20 years — has created international media interest and a firestorm of criticism from ethicists and futurists who see a dark side to a sex doll that becomes more “human” with each technological innovation.
One critic worries that the doll’s artificial intelligence app could be hacked to make it kill its owner (like the vengeance meted out by sex robots in the film “Ex Machina” and TV show “Westworld”).
He sees Harmony more as a comforting conversation companion like Apple’s Siri, albeit one capable of having sensual conversations and telling naughty jokes.“The worst thing she can possibly do to you is insult you,” he said, pointing out that Harmony’s arms and legs are jointed and fully poseable but they don’t operate independently — at least not yet.“The whole idea of a sex-capable robot is very contemporary, now and edgy. But Harmony is a sophisticated piece of machinery and her primary design is to carry on conversations,” he said.
And as for the critics who say artificially intelligent sex dolls disturbingly cross the line into a form of female sex slavery, Mc Mullen calls the argument “absurd.”“This is not designed to replace anyone or promote the objectification of women. “Should my toaster be able to refuse to toast my bread?But there is another aspect of human–robot relationships that is rarely mentioned, and it’s one on which robots could have just as great an impact as any other. That reticence changed, at least in the United Kingdom, last week.A flurry of press reports followed the publication of a consultation report (see go.nature.com/2u4578x) by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics that aims to encourage public debate about sex robots.Academic research on sex-related technology is even scarcer, and the work that has been done so far — including a study by Stanford University in California that revealed that people get physiologically aroused when touching a robot in places that they would find sensitive themselves — is plagued by caveats and differing interpretations.The academic world has largely looked on the topic as both trivial and sensational.(Meanwhile, the annual revenue of the academic publishing market in 2013 was around billion.) Just four companies, all located in the United States, currently produce sex robots. They are still more doll than robot, but Matt Mc Mullan, chief executive of one of the bot manufacturers, Abyss Creations, is focusing his company’s efforts on interactivity.As artificial intelligence and robotics improve, advances will filter into robots designed for sex. (Soldiers have been shown to develop emotional attachments to bomb-disposal robots.) Although a handful of researchers have looked seriously at the issues surrounding relationships with robots, research into the social, legal and moral implications is scarce.And women’s advocates say owners could realistically rehearse plans for violent sexual acts with the interactive dolls.But Mc Mullen, the CEO and creative director for Realbotix, a subsidiary of his doll-making factory Abyss Creations, said critics of Harmony have it all wrong.Technological developments in soft robotics and artificial intelligence put these machines on the horizon, at least in basic form, the authors of the report suggest.And the impact of sex robots could differ markedly from that of conventional sex aids.