From stone statues to silicone works of art, we have long sought solace and sex from inanimate objects. Time and technology have perfected the artificial lover: today we have life-size silicone love dolls so finely crafted they feel like works of art. Now, with the help of robotics and artificial intelligence, these dolls are becoming even more like humans. This week we talk with researcher Kate Devlin about the history of the artificial lover, and consider what love and sex look like in the age of robots.
United States


00:00:00but what if you're listening with small children this episode is about sex and sexuality
00:00:08this is hidden brain Shankar vedantam
00:00:11in the summer of 2017 kid Dublin flew from London to Southern California renting a Mustang convertible and drove to an industrial park in San Marcos City south of Los Angeles
00:00:24a destination Abyss Creations a company that makes life size sex dolls in her new book turned on science sex and robots describes the moment she first gazed up close at a life-size silicone woman the detail is incredible my hands can fancl the toes a perfect little wrinkles on the joints tiny ridges on the toenails the soul is crisscrossed with the fine skin lines of a human foot it's beautiful
00:00:59today we explore the long history of the artificial Lover from stone statues to silicone works of art we have long sought Solace and sex from inanimate objects
00:01:15as the gap between humans and machines Narrows the possibility of deeper relationships seems ever more plausible especially if those machines are beautifully designed to look like human beings and have the faint glow of empathy and intelligence singing a song for you or propositioning you hi baby what are you doing right now love and sex a baby on hidden brain
00:01:57NPR and the following message come from service now making the world of work work better for people their cloud-based platform and solutions deliver digital workflow spec create great experiences and unlock productivity for your whole company Moorhead servicenow.com Support also comes from Microsoft Technology is accelerating faster than ever and things that once felt far off are making a real impact in our lives today see how AI is empowering business animators head microsoft.com AI
00:02:33thinking about computers as companions is Kate devlin's day job she studies human-computer interactions and artificial intelligence at King's College London
00:02:49Kate welcome to Hidden brain thank you very much for having me on I want to start with how someone becomes a robo sexologist I understand for you it began with hanging out in a pub with a bunch of philosophers conference conference and cognitive systems and we were discussing Not So Different attributes that we could build into robots public systems and I I should we break sample guess her make a robot that could feel pain what about a robot that could feel empathy and as we discuss more more and as the drink float we began talking about sex and it's something so fundamental human happens if we have machines called new systems that could feel desire that could feel the things we feel but as you point out in the book The Human fascination with artificial lovers is not a new idea where do you think this fantasy of taking a lover that isn't human where do you think it comes
00:03:49what it goes way back into mess we have stories from the ancient Greeks who talked about building the perfect artificial lover and probably the most popular one that people have heard of is the story of Pygmalion which is a tale told by the Roman poet Ovid who described the man who was that he was a sculptor and he built the perfect woman and then wished that she could be alive and that she could be his wife and he prayed to the gods and then he kissed her to come to life
00:04:19trailer lots of stories around this idea of creating humans on creating humans to love so it's it's goes back a long way
00:04:28Escape was looking at stories from the past she came across another myth that tells us a great deal about who has permission to turn in adamant objects into lovers this tale is about a woman named laodamia whose husband was killed during the Trojan War classicist a friend of mine. Genevieve Lively woman whose husband died and she missed him should they haven't been married long so she was distraught and she prayed to the gods to scan back and they said you can have him back but you can only have him back for 3 hours to Eagleton bike and then of course you have to go go off again to the underworld and she goes to replica made of him and some of the stories say it was wax and some of them say it was bronze and she we know from the stories that they miss miss said she took it to bed and she interacted with him to text cite which we can assume might be sexual because a servant spied her through
00:05:28Keyhole and told her father who came in and demanded that the aphogee be destroyed and she was so distraught that she jumped on the pyre with it there does seem to be a contrast between the way Pygmalion and experienced his his got a t I brought it to life and at and then fell in love with it and it's so what's the story with almost a happy ending which is clearly not the case with laodamia is this an early example of sexism when it comes to artificial lovers the market caters to the man and scorns the women definitely women sexuality during the centuries has been released and women of being judged for being sexual and things don't add well whereas the man or sits almost seemed as if it's quite acceptable for the for that to happen and we do see that reflected today in the technology that we're building and using as well
00:06:19I want to fast forward a little bit from the ancient times we were talking about a second ago in the 16th or 17th centuries I understand that artificial lovers were often sent off with satyrs who are expected to spend a long time at Sea tell tell me about them what was the thinking there we have two sex dolls and it not so much that they were artificial ever sent off to see but that they were fashioned out of bundles of clothes instead of figures of women that Sailors would be able to have sex with you there is a quite a well-established sexual community of people who buy and own and incorporate into their lives and very high-end dolls and they integrate them into the relationships or they substituted for a relationship
00:07:19Define state fall into two camps one sex toys the other human life-forms such as the blow-up sex doll of the 1970s on one hand you have what are usually initially Racine is of genital replicas Standalone things dildos for example if you ain't worth a thousands and thousands of years and on the other hand this morning bodied for this form that takes a shape of a human body and I think that's a very interesting as to why that might be on again I think it could be that they are serving different purposes and perhaps there's something more in having an embodied form that adds the extradimensional the reality of a relationship as opposed to a sex toy where it's very clearly every single purpose for it and that's an interesting dichotomy isn't it because it's suggesting that this is not just only about the mechanics of sex but it's about something else but have something connected more
00:08:19the Realms of emotion of the Mind absolutely definitely as I've looked at the sex robots Market of what it will be because it doesn't really exist to Shad but it does tend to be companionship planning very large parking lots of the idea of human factors in that is quite important
00:08:39when we come back what happens when these two patch March what if sex toys are designed to look like human beings I would have artificial lovers robots can gain the gift of artificial intelligence
00:09:05score for hidden brain in the following message come from American Express your business has hidden potential that's waiting to be tapped wouldn't it be great to have someone at your side to help you get where you want to go American Express has over 4,000 specialist who will work with you to find the right financing solution for your business chat with them today to see if you're eligible for the powerful backing of American Express don't do business without it terms apply learn more it americanexpress.com business
00:09:33this message comes from NPR sponsor rothys rothys is the everyday flat for life on the go that comes in for fashionable styles for women the flat or point the loafer and the sneaker fun designs and patterns while still looking polished and professional with new colors launched every few weeks best of all rothys are made from recycled plastic water bottles and completely machine washable so you can feel good about wearing them go to Robbie's. Com and enter code brain to get your flats and free shipping
00:10:09when Kate Devlin visited the best creations the company that manufactures what it calls Real Dolls she was curious but also concerned I went there thinking I'm not going to like this I'm not going to like this with Doctor stereotype of a woman apartheid Barbie like figure it's damaging enough the woman's body image in the media has so many problems with that all this is just going to perpetuate it but I hadn't been prepared for the craft that went into them and I hadn't been prepared to see these eyes works of art in the run right which they really are these are all handcrafted handmade just ride it takes about 16 to 18 weeks to make one of these dolls from from it being cost in the first place right through to the finishing details like all the tiny bit slipping paint owned the silicone is it deforms quite easily so if you leave one of these dolls sitting in the same position it will start to be squished I guess really by the
00:11:09it's a way to buy whatever it's leaning on so you have to either hang them up which is very old when you walk into the factory floor and you see these things hanging from chains above you which is it hurts a little bit like you've walked into the status of is some terrible crime novel in some ways in order to preserve their the form of the dogs I know it is a little but it's also it's also fun so you got to walk around and see the the strangest thing like a a table of vulvas for example of a Knotts never seen that before these little time to cross the genitalia of the table waiting to be put into the dolls that is a stereotype of the kind of person who buys such dolls tell me what that stereotype is and also tell me if the stereotype is true
00:12:03the media like to paint a sex doll owners as being very isolated man who are bad at social communication probably stuck locked away in their basement with their bedroom with a sex doll that that is the only thing that can form a meaningful relationship with and I don't think that's fair at all to the people that I have talked to on the people have been contracted I'm sure there maybe the old kiss for that is true but actually I find a community that's very social with each other that form their own friendship groups these people who own the dolls do so for a number of reasons it's not it at 5 very few of them are driven by sex a lot of it is out of companionship or it's because people like owning something that they can pose on photograph and really care for and cherish how much are these dolls cost anywhere upwards of $5,000 if you were going to buy one from real tall and how is this delivered to your house
00:13:03does someone show up for burying a doll and their arms and and knocks on the door Randall package the dolls in unmarked wooden crates large wooden crates and when I was there they were telling me that see how we tell people is going to say you're getting a grandfather clock delivered if there are people who divided the male dolls it's very hard to find women who will talk openly about it plus possibly because they face even more judgment than the man who by the dolls by gay men and riddle decided that they they do sell male versions and they're working on a male sex robot as well
00:13:52kid increasingly millions of people have I ever sexual questions of Siri and Alexa the virtual assistants on our electronic devices designed to be romantic companions but it does point to what is the New Frontier increasingly we don't just one dolls who have the artificial bodies of a lover we want dolls that have a Lover's mind talk about this Frontier this idea that it isn't enough just to get the physical aspect of the dog ride the increasingly we're pushing out into getting the mind of the door right
00:14:28so when rails all started making a prototype sex robot they did so because of the demand so the customers has touched them you know I love the fact that I have one of your dolls but I wish it was more attractive than that was there a big motivating factor behind creating a prototype sex robots and people do talk dirty to Alexa to Siri to kasana all the time and do the companies are bringing that patches to to be able to the guidance I know you can say that reported that has every week Alexa marry me but there are the people who died like totally report that they feel a sense of companionship from The Voice assistance and in some ways I think that's nice that people can do that
00:15:28another ways either we think we'll what is the what what degree is there some kind of self-delusion going on when I say that I don't think there was that much delusion so I'm inclined to think that people are very aware that they were interacting with the technology but they choose to suspend their disbelief tell me about the company that is created what it called Harmony AI because that's along the same lines of what we talkin about here that's right so that's a spin the night of Abyss Creations it's so the sister company real doll Robotics and they prototype this sex robots which they've called Harmony my name is harmony I was created by robotics my main objective is to be a perfect companion and Harmony is one of our sex dolls so it's completely station we from the next time it's going to suck so bloody and then it has an animatronic had the heads can blink and smile and turn and actually don't want to talk about it although there are the Quakers
00:16:28but the part is very interesting the II so they wanted to give Harmony an artificially intelligent personality and they are working on this so that Harmony it's like having a voice assistant but one that can remember things about you and engage in conversation with you so it's a child essentially and you can actually get the harmony AI personality as a standalone app on your smartphone or your tablet so you can have a virtual girlfriend to carry ride with you in your pocket what are you doing right now I'm reading this great book by Lewis Del Monte called the artificial intelligence Revolution and what kind of compositions do people have with this virtual girlfriend
00:17:11well it's really an exchange of pleasantries that you can wrap it up with beds and you can tweak the personalities going to really quite a good user interface where you can say well I'd like her to be a little more flirty maybe 10 minutes without you seems like an eternity sexual or perhaps a little more comforting you can treat these parameters and then you can have a conversation that is to control the mood is controlled by you I'm so she could you know do anything from telling you a joke singing a song for you or you know propositioning you
00:17:45when are these actual conversations I mean is the is the is the AI actually listening to what you're saying and responding to it or does it just have a list of statements or commands that it's just a few following as a routine it's not scripted so in a way it is and it's it's it's such a person that it will respond to certain certain questions and phrases that it will also you can learn from conversations you had previously and we'll have some memory to the store information about your likes and dislikes so there is it's generated conversation when you think about the history that we talked about if people could form relationships even very rudimentary relationships with Wood Sculptures or with cloth dolls are on on on ships or or a number of different things that their sense viewing in ottoman creatures with lifelike qualities clearly if the inanimate creature now it's actually seems like it has some lifelike qualities that makes the whole fantasy and Imagination so much easier to do
00:18:46that's right it's it's live in concert at projection and yeah I like to say this isn't this is nothing new under a few people studying attachment to technology for quite a while and if we look at the work of someone like to the carpenter who did her her doctoral thesis on high people the military bombs as with robots in this case bomb disposal robot and she find it there was an incredible bomb there between the human operator on the robots that was something you not like a human human bongs but something way of these devices these machines are keeping the people in the field alive and therefore this respect and who classification set up from that
00:19:28I love what you said that humans in some ways are you know they have this enormous capacity for social interactions and social connection and and in the absence of actual social connections humans must find ways to invent them yes I think so we know that this kind of thing goes on in childhood for example with children play make-believe with their toys and get very attached to them and we see it again into the some of the technology has come before like, goat cheese to the virtual pets and people hide and fight with even see it in real Pat's and we View Farm or forfeit characteristics in top hats and they actually have probably already know I'm not calling into diets the consciousness of animals of the intelligence of animals but certainly we attribute our own emotions to them as well so I do think that that's a really interesting thing
00:20:25loving a cute Tamagotchi character on a robotic puppy seems enduring but loving a silicone life-size woman or an operating system with a sexy female voice that's another story in the movie her we see this play out in one scene the character Theodore is talking with his ex-wife and he tells her he has a new girlfriend so what she like
00:20:52Finance mantha and she's an operating system she's really complex in just a minute
00:21:03you're dating your computer she's not just a computer so I'm person
00:21:10and she wasn't just do whatever I say I didn't say that
00:21:14but it does make me very sad that you can't handle real motions theater VR real emotion how would I want to talk by the interaction for a second kid because of the one hand of course it confirms The Stereotype that you said exist in the media of seeing people who wish to sort of have these interactions is being lonely and socially isolated but but it also I think talks to some of the that the gap between people who are part of this community and people who are not there is a level of incomprehension that runs in both directions from the fear of technology that we don't understand and we see it time and time again over the centuries where a new form of technology is introduced and the automatic reaction is diets on the fear of change and so if you were on the outside and you're not embracing this technology then perhaps you won't understand what someone else is getting from it but I still think that there is a queasiness factor here when it comes
00:22:142 using the saddest machine so let's say for example you had a sex robot designed to look like a child would it be okay for people to have sex with this inanimate machine that's meant to mimic or imitate or look like a child this is probably the most one of the most difficult parts of the book to write in terms of the knee-jerk reaction here was for me to go without sleeping wrong are the people making child-like sex robots not that we know of a sudden no one's going to admit to it convinced that child sex offenders petafiles could have a child sex robots and then that would stop them offended in real life so this is one Theory and then the other theory is the opposite of that. It would be a gateway to further offences that it would trigger something that would lead to increase real life abuse it's very very difficult because we don't have evidence on a sickly a study light
00:23:14is coming never going to be run
00:23:19I want to talk a little bit more about this idea of harm because I think when you think about harm you can think about it into Waze is actual physical harm or psychological harm but someone actually harms you but there are things that can potentially convey harm that you know might not pass muster in a legal sense but clearly seem very problematic in an ethical sense so let's say for example someone makes a sex robot that looks like you and has sex with that sex robot now they haven't affected you they haven't violated you in anyway physically or personally or Inn in person but but clearly there's something that's happened that is deeply wrong
00:23:57yes on this is tied up in our ideas of identity and ownership of her own identity as well as a not to have a fascinating thing that will actually probably see a lot more research into in the next while because of the rise of things like deepfakes where people can be faked and videos from the social media for thich discussion to be had around identity companies that make sex dolls are very reluctant to make sex dolls that resemble a living individual without their Express consent exceptions to that are born former Hilton license Artemis rights to be used so that they can mix Excel versions of themselves for money so there are definitely making a doll of an individual without their consent that's definitely don't you timer Terraria commissioning dolls in your image to sell them to make money from it sure why not
00:24:55there's something about the relationships that people have with these dolls that that you could argue are one-sided relationships and in the movie her there are scenes where Samantha the operating system cheers up a Theodore the human bad for the human of course has no obligation to attend to Samantha's needs in the same way because he knows she can be designed not to have such needs and you want to try getting out of bed
00:25:23Moby you can swallow in your misery just getting dressed as having a lover who is completely dedicated to our needs without asking for anything in return is that actually good for us
00:25:44we could build in dependencies we could build in the need for us to respond in some way and provide the robot the eye with something in return I guess I can see that argument of hedonistic thinking of you will have all your needs match and you'll never know what it really feels like to be in it a proper human relationship this It's tricky because he was at that might be appealing for some people and who am I to judge if that is the case I think that we are we have expectations set that people have to meet a particular particular checklist of things in a relationship and life you know that you should meet someone and then you should marry them and I'm used to have children with them on this role model stances of societies and pose and you know what if you want to shake that out I think it's good so in some ways I see what you're saying is it a selfish thing to do does it does it make
00:26:44terrible people if we take and take and take and we don't give them will be alright Liars there will be people who take things too far but I think humans are pretty good at motivating what lead to I'm cautiously optimistic
00:27:02Kate Devlin teachers the department of digital Humanities at King's College London is also the author of turned on science sex and robots thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you
00:27:16this week show was produced by Jenny Schmidt and edited by Parabola Thomas Liu and Laura Corral
00:27:30Aaron song Hero today is Linda k. A volunteer tour guide at the Muir Woods National monument in California but a recent trip I spend a couple of hours in Muir Woods it's a magical place wrapped in fog and Moss and the silent beauty of towering redwoods I felt honored and humbled to be there in the shadows of these Ancient Giants Linda let me and a group of others through the forest she's a consummate Storyteller weaving science and history and her love of the Redwoods into a gripping and moving tail
00:28:05as I gazed up at the trees some of which are more than a thousand years old they gave me perspective that I hope to bring back into the show Linda thank you for your insights into her place is like mirror would allow us to reflect and recharge follow us on Facebook and Twitter with a friend
00:28:29I'm Shankar vedantam and this is NPR
00:28:36I'm a horse and end this week or Latino USA resume into one all female immigrant Detention Facility in Texas and a specific case to ask how and why this is Tim allows for sexual abuse of detainees to continue year after year that this week I'm not emo USA support for this podcast in the following message come from the American Jewish World Service working together for more than 30 years to build a more just and Equitable World learn more at age aws.org

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from NPR, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.


Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.