Sex robots: fact or fiction?

Adult entertainment robots: a buyer’s guide

Image credit: Getty Images

You’d be forgiven, if you believe certain sections of the internet, for thinking that sexbots are ubiquitous. But do they even exist? Commence clutching your pearls, we’re going in!

Every technology needs a stroke of luck to get moving, and the Covid-19 pandemic has, by all accounts, provided a huge boost to the sexbot business. One producer, Abyss Creations, claims a 75 per cent uplift in sales during the various lockdowns.

Certainly, artificial partners have come a long way since the blow-up doll, although these souped-up balloons are still available for the cash-strapped lover. What exactly is on offer as the 21st century creaks and shudders towards its second quarter?

Do they do male and female?

Let’s face it, these are objects largely designed by straight men for straight men – there are very few male versions on the market, with one company declaring that their female dolls outsell the males by more than ten to one. Not that any woman in her right mind would even admit to owning one.

Exdoll, in Dalian, China, produces about 400 dolls a month and their chief development officer, Qiao Wu told Ariana Life: “It’s human nature to want to have a beautiful man or woman by your side.” He adds that some customers buy several in order to be the centre of attention of a group. I imagine that their success has something to do with the sex imbalance in China linked to the selective abortion of female babies. The 2020 Census recorded 105 males for every 100 females.

Do they do my type?

If you like a Barbie-esque physique – big boobs, a narrow waist and wide hips – you’re in luck. Otherwise, the choice is strictly limited, but skin tones and hair colour can be selected from a palette of colours. Basically, the more you customise, the higher the price. With a lot of customisation and a head that can move and talk, you’d have to have a lot of spare cash in the wallet and patience. The waiting list for Harmony models at Abyss Creations (US) is almost as long as that for the legendary and very long awaited Tesla Cybertruck.

Don’t worry if you get fed up with the look of your chosen bot – replacement heads start at $800 (£585). Abyss’s latest models have interchangeable faces for that tweak of personality.

What do they mean by ‘bot’?

The term sexbot is a bit of a misnomer, and is more marketing ploy than technical fact. There is certainly no robotics wizardry going on below the neck in any of the current crop of products. It’s possible that robotics engineers find their skills better deployed with bigger issues such as combating climate change, developing low emission autonomous transport, or improving accessibility for disabled people. I’d certainly like to think so.

Above the neck in the more sophisticated models, there is a head that can turn, eyes that blink, and lips that the manufacturers claim can synch to speech. This is palpably not true: they kind of flap in a weird way. But there is a machine-learning AI and an app to select from several personalities – I have not delved very far down this particular rabbit hole, apologies readers.

Judging from the online videos demonstrating the quality of the conversations that you can have, it’s perhaps on a par with Alexa or Siri, and the makers claim that, like the universal AI’s that we have become accustomed to, your talking head will get to know you. One manufacturer proudly claims that their Harmony bot can quote Shakespeare. Probably true, but I’m guessing it’s all a bit of PR flim-flam to deflect from the primary purpose of these artificial companions.

In one particularly strange video clip, a guy had taken his fake friend’s ‘head’ away on holiday when he went skiing in Salt Lake City, and she discusses how she feels being left in the room. God knows what the housekeeper experienced when she went in. I cannot imagine that anyone would be brave enough to take either a head, or a full doll through any airport security. Perhaps he drove there.

Where can I keep my sexbot?

Leaving Romeo or Juliet propped up in a chair in the living room might alarm your cleaner or other visitors, but maybe buyers of these products don’t have many visitors. Another option is a ‘hook and frame’ arrangement so that she will appear to stand in the corner of the room. Ever practical and mindful of space in small Japanese apartments, some Asian bots come with an optional convertible bench seat. A bit like a cross between a coffin, a blanket chest, and a window seat.

How much will I have to spend?

A basic sex doll with little ‘robotic’ functionality starts at around £5,000. Prices for a Harmony bot that can hold a conversation and move its head and eyes will start at around $15,000 (£11,000). But be clear, Harmony cannot even stand up, so it might spend a lot of time propped up in a chair in the living room. It’s hard to believe the level of sexism and misogyny, but some companies are intending to add ‘wifely’ skills to their products in the future. Apparently stacking the dishwasher, and singing and dancing is on the list. How aspirational.

Can I test drive a model?

You won’t be having a conversation with these particular models, but yes, amazingly there are basic doll ‘brothels’ in Moscow, Barcelona, and Turin. Lumidolls charges €100 (£85) an hour to enjoy the company of a synthetic beauty. And even closer to home, an establishment in Greenwich, London, the Dolly Parlour has apparently opened its doors. Our investigation did not extend to a visit. For your further information, renting time with a silicon doll is not illegal in the UK, but visiting a sex worker is.

While researching this piece, I have come across sites and sights that I would rather have not seen. Good luck if you are brave enough to venture further.

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