A robotic love life

A robotic love life

Unconventional affairs in the digital world.

We're reporting to you today from the Lonely Parts Club, a shed out the back of the Digital Life Labs, where retired and current lab staff meet to discuss the ways in which technology has helped us to get laid. So far, technology has hardly helped in this regard, even for our former staffers whom we hoped had escaped the stigma of having been employed at such a place as this. It seems that when you don the white lab coat and take a vow of nerdiness, it operates (rather like the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) perpetually.

Of course, no one told us this when we signed up.

Our Lonely Parts Club meeting is usually a rather dreary and desperate affair, where the acrid musk of halitosis means that many of our members have long since stopped trying, and where the usual self-sorry silence is broken only when a game of Galaga sparks up. But this week, it was abuzz with excitement.

News had come in from the trenches, informing us that technology would soon find us all dates and get us all in the sack. It was enough to quicken the pulse of even our most hardened veterans, even if by "soon", the news bearers mean 2050, and even if by "dates" they mean romantic outings, not with other humans as we had hoped, but with the technology itself.

The means, it seems, will eventually become the end. As far as outcomes go, that's not a bad one, I suppose, and better than nothing.

David Levy, a British researcher into artificial intelligence, whose qualifications for nerdiness include the fact he's an international chess master, will next month publish a book titled Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, which (as the title suggests) argues that human interaction with robots will eventually lead to "amorous feelings" on the part of the human. In certain more permissive countries, this will one day lead to people marrying their robots.

Levy may have a vested interest in suggesting this. He runs a London-based firm that makes toys that incorporate artificial intelligence. We imagine that one day he may expand the business to sex toys that incorporate artificial intelligence, should his thesis take hold. To date, however, much of his time appears to have been dedicated to artificial intelligence in the game of chess, which is about as far from a sex toy as one could wish, so we're prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

As part of a PhD on this topic, Levy surveyed the literature on what it is in human interactions that makes one human attractive to another, and he discovered that many of the things that make us fall in love can be replicated by artificial intelligence in robot form.

For instance, one of the things that most attracts one human to another is if the two of them share interests and beliefs.

Well, it turns out that interests and beliefs can easily be faked by a robot, which can readily be programmed to know everything about its human master's/mistress's passions, Levy says.

You love the singer/songwriter Ben "Bring A Pillow" Harper? Well, your robot pal can easily be loaded with every fact about Ben Harper, and it can lie in bed with you discussing the minutiae of his life in dulcet tones till you nod off to sleep.

Better still, your robot can be loaded with MP3 copies of Harper's complete discography, and can sing Ben Harper songs to you, pitch perfect, until you sleep.

Another factor that attracts one human to another, according to Levy's research, is attraction itself. If someone is attracted to you, if their pupils dilate and their breast swells every time you walk by, if they hang off your every word and laugh at your crappy jokes, then that makes them more attractive to you. It's just natural.

This attraction can also be faked by a robot, which can be programmed with all the details of your life, making it appear that it takes a keen interest in you that borders on stalking.

A robot will remember your birthday, your mother's birthday, and your pet poodle's birthday. It will even wirelessly sync itself with your Outlook calendar, like a BlackBerry, to keep itself appraised of everything going on in your life.

A robot's pupils can be mechanically dilated every time its radars detect you walking by. Its breast can pneumatically swell when its capacitive inductors detect your touch. It can sit on your knee and listen to your stories and laugh at your jokes till its batteries run out.

A robot, in short, is the perfect date, and Levy says that humans will quickly learn to love them.

Here in the Lonely Parts Club, we see other advantages to robots that Levy hasn't enumerated.

A robot could have detachable arms, for example, so that when you're snuggling next to it in bed, no one need suffer from the "fourth arm" syndrome in which only three of the couple's arms can comfortably be accommodated. That fourth arm, the one that usually gets jammed up between the bodies, can just be snapped off, and placed at the bottom of the bed until it's needed.

And it's not just the future, and it's not just robots, either. The entire technology sector is now humming with the sound of birds and bees.

Just this month, Japanese manufacturing giant Mitsubishi revealed prototypes of a mobile phone designed to aid the love lives of its owners, by telling them whether or not their breath is too ripe for kissing.

The phone, known as a Wellness Navigator, features a built-in breath detector, which Mitsubishi says can detect halitosis and warn its owner when extra dental hygiene is required. Here in the clubroom, we can't wait to get one of these phones, because frankly, some of our "special friends" are getting a bit on the nose, and (though we can hardly bring ourselves to tell them this) hard to kiss. But it may not be halitosis. They may just need a fresh battery, and maybe an oil change.

Australian Financial Review

©Fairfax Business Media

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Tags social networkingWeb 2.0second life

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