Gadget Hunter

Valley of the Sex Dolls

The “groundbreaking sex robot” is neither groundbreaking nor a true robot.

Usually when I write about a new tech product, I like to have a little “hands-on” time with the device. Perhaps fortunately, that’s not the case with the Roxxxy TrueCompanion, the latest in high-tech sex toys, unleashed at this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. While I was next-door at the Consumer Electronics Show, checking out the latest in 3-D televisions and e-book readers, Roxxxy was making waves with sex industry professionals and robot bloggers alike.

Creator Douglas Hines believes his “sex robot” to be the most realistic in existence, with several different personality modes built into each unit (Mature Martha, Frigid Farrah, Wild Wendy) that can be further tailored and shared with other users online. It also has software that responds to touch and offers audio feedback based on activity. While the technology inside of Roxxxy is very intriguing, I’m more curious about how artificial intelligence in the bedroom will change how we real humans view sex. 

Starting at $7,000 and topping off at $9,000, depending on how customizable you’d like your doll, Roxxxy isn’t priced low enough to achieve mass-market adoption—any plans to add sophisticated electronics to your existing sex routine are probably a few years off. But as the technology advances and the prices of parts drop, we’ll begin to see more devices out there like Roxxxy. With such advanced sex toys readily available, could a real woman’s role in the bedroom become obsolete?

Violet Blue, author and sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, thinks women shouldn’t feel threatened:

People will always have to suspend an element of disbelief to complete the fantasy; you can’t fool all of the senses, and sex with another person is a sense-reliant experience. For some people, and only some … they are more than happy with having a fantasy lover than a real life companion or mate, but because their orientation does not suit them for intimate human relationships. These people will be happy to have a sex robot … [but they] aren’t the people [you would] see at singles’ bars or dating meet-ups in the first place.

There’s an inherent creepiness involved with human-modeled robots like Roxxxy: When they start looking too similar to the real thing, the uncanny valley phenomenon sets in. As human beings, we become unsettled by artificial forms that too closely mimic ourselves—take, for example, the somewhat creepy 3-D renderings in films like The Polar Express. There are two ways to solve the uncanny valley issue: Make the dolls more toylike (thus taking them out of the realm of the “almost human but not quite”) or perfecting their looks so much that the dolls more closely resemble fembot Elizabeth Hurley in the Austin Powers films. Though we’re still many years off from that being possible, there’s always the concern that the fembots could become self-aware and stage a “sexual revolt” of a totally different nature. Small concern, of course, but it’s good to be prepared!

Despite Roxxxy’s realistic looks and artificial personality, Blue thinks we should pause before labeling it a “robot”:  Roxxxy is sans robotics, “save for sensors that only transmit feedback for audio responses.” While it does have a humanlike appearance and contains software that mimics a human response, Roxxxy cannot perform any functions that you don’t initiate—one mark of a true robot.

And plenty of other humanoid devices predate our girl Roxxxy. Companies such as the Dutch First Androids have beaten Hines to the bedroom with their robotic sex dolls—and they boast superior motor skills to boot. Furthermore, all of today’s human-partner substitutes will soon be outdated: The technology exists to make even more advanced androids, such as Project Aiko. While not a sex robot, Aiko can react to pain and recognizes faces and speech. The developers also hope to have her walking on her own within a few years—and it’s a matter of time before someone uses the technology behind Aiko to create an artificial lover. TrueCompanion, however, insists that it’s the personality in Roxxxy that makes all the difference: “[Roxxxy] can carry on a discussion and expresses her love to you and [sic] be your loving friend.” It cannot, however, get you a glass of water after a particularly rigorous “love-making” session.

For those of you waiting for the male version of Roxxxy, TrueCompanion says the next doll, Rocky, is in the works. It seems an obvious move for the company, considering the sex-toy marketplace has long catered to the needs of women—it only takes one trip to GoodVibrations to see what technological marvels those devices have become. In fact, women have a very long history of carnal relationships with inanimate objects: “What’s fascinating is how openly and unquestionably women have embraced sex with machines,” says Blue. “According to The Technology of Orgasmby Rachel Maines, women have been having orgasms with machines since at least 1860, and the first at-home self-stimulation device was widely marketed to women in 1918. … On our own, women have no inhibitions about having sex with machines. We’ve been doing it much longer than men.” So why didn’t TrueCompanion go with the male version right out of the gate? It’s widely believed that men are more visual in bed than women, so that could be one reason why a sex doll of such realistic proportions would be more attractive to males, at least in this first version. 

Despite all the hype around the Roxxxy TrueCompanion, at the end of the day, it’s essentially a next-generation blow-up doll. Roxxxy reminds me of another overhyped piece of gadgetry: the Segway. Both have flashy appearances, advanced electronics, and very little ability to change human society. But hey, if you’ve got $7,000 to spare, Roxxxy might make an interesting conversation piece at your next dinner party.