Nobody’s perfect: Future relationships with humanoid robots | Robotics
The concept of creating the perfect companion has probably been a central theme in works of science fiction since the beginning of science fiction.
Although Frankenstein's monster is not everyone's idea of the perfect companion, Mary Shelley wrote the novel before 1818, when it was first published.
That's at least 200 years since someone described a mad scientist who creates a human-like being in a lab using means other than natural procreation.
Nowadays, tissue engineering labs have become highly skilled at producing cells for muscles, skin, organs and bones for use in the building of a human body.
Whether anyone has actually attempted to build a full human body is not known, but certainly, the constituent parts are routinely made now.
How this collection of tissue which could be referred to as a human can be brought to life is debatable, but it seems that the available solution is robotics.
A robotic system – or a mechatronic system – underneath the tissue-engineered exterior is what we're talking about.
The mechanics is the difficult part – moving around in a natural way is not as easy as humans make it look.
The electronics and software seem to have arrived at a stage where Google is having to apologise for making its virtual robot so realistic that it fooled some humans into believing they were communicating with another human – and they didn't like it.
The film Her may have over-stated it at the time, and made the virtual artificially intelligent voice-responsive robot seem flawless, but such a situation is not too far off.
So, even if the mechanical components make for a slightly clunky robot, and the software isn't totally perfect, what can be achieved now is quite amazing if customers are willing to pay for it.
High-quality mechanical components underneath and lab-engineered human tissue encasing: this has been the approximate composition put forward in a number of relatively recent films, such as The Stepford Wives and Ex Machina among others.
A similar construction is shown for the robots in Westworld, which actually shows how the actual construction process might be taking place – with robotic arms sculpting the robots out of synthetic human tissue.
It's probably prohibitively expensive to produce robots in this way – not commercially viable for the mass market, but not beyond the means of someone who can afford a top-of-the-range sports car.
At the moment, the term “sex robots” is used to refer to this whole sector, but perhaps that is a term that puts people off and hides the sophistication at this level of science and technology.
International laws probably ban human cloning, but there probably are no laws covering a human-like robot made in the way we've described above.
But legal and ethical considerations aside for a moment, let's see some of the market activity for these ultra-realistic humanoid robots.
China, the centre of so many things robotics these days, has a number of companies which produce humanoid “sex robots”.
Often called sex “cyborgs”, or sex “dolls”, these machines look highly realistic in some pictures, as can be seen on the Daily Star website.
The companies include Realbotix, Synthea Amatus, and DS Doll. The dolls are said to be artificially intelligence and inexpensive.
Until now, such AI humanoids have been too expensive to manufacture in significant numbers.
However, judging by the way they look, their encasements are mostly made of plastic or rubber, which – though the robots look very impressively realistic – still fall short of the quality of humanoid robots seen in the films.
But while they may not meet our neo-pretentious standards, these robots are actually selling quite well.
At around $10,000 each, they probably represent good value to some people.
Some customers apparently ask dolls to be made to look like their favourite celebrities.
Actually, WWE wrestlers, superheroes and Hollywood actors and actresses are among the most popular requests.
Among the pictures we have seen is one doll that looks very similar to Scarlett Johansson.
Another one is said to look like Justin Beiber, although we can't see the resemblance.
Generally speaking, celebrities tend to own rights to their image, meaning companies cannot just make something in their likeness without their permission.
It's difficult to say how much money is in the market since not many have conducted research into it, but some people have said the business can be lucrative.
An article on The Guardian website suggests the sex robot sector is of a significant size since it falls with the $30 billion “sex tech industry”.
Whether you can call this romance or not is beyond our ability to judge since we do feel rather unqualified to comment.
What with AI becoming better able to converse in a human-like way and materials science offering a new class of components for the physics, relationships seem set to become a lot more complicated than they used to be.
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