Each passing year, we hear both of new advancements and new controversies in the field of real dolls, sex dolls, and VR porn. These advancements will inevitably change the social landscape and most likely contribute to various social problems, but on the other hand they are also the result of the social landscape. These things are not merely produced in isolation.
Despite my indifference and even dislike of these things, I can’t help but admire them on a technological level. Just having the robot speak requires coordinating a whole team of engineers on the hardware side and programmers on the software side to get those movements close enough to the real thing.
There are artists who construct accurate, yet artificial faces from models and stock images. The robot’s speech might come from an actual human voice actor, which is then sent through programming algorithms that change the pitch and tone to mimic human emotions. Human words flow into each other from word to word, sentence to sentence, and body language makes up for the majority of our unconscious speech. Any malfunction in the motors or delay with the voice will break the illusion.
Think of how the material engineers will need to make a body of false flesh with the same density as the real thing. Skin needs to feel and move like skin. False bones need to make the limbs feel real. And the whole thing needs to smell like a human and not like plastic or silicone.
How many chemical engineers would it take just to get the scent right? How many hours would the prototype spend in QA testing? How many different variants would need to be produced for consumer tastes? Even getting these things to walk upright like a normal human would take thousands upon thousands of man-hours of research and testing.
Those limitations lead critics to say that these robots will never leave the uncanny valley, or that reaching true fidelity with that of a real person will take decades of research. However, critics of those critics say you don’t need perfect fidelity to ensure that consumers buy them. Right now, there are people who get off to fur suits and go on dinner dates with body pillows. Anime characters make up a huge portion of porn and erotica. Their designs have next to no bearing on actual human anatomy, and are sometimes preferred over the real thing.
In short, we don’t need perfect fidelity to satiate these consumers.
That makes the finish line a lot closer than we think, and using virtual reality to smooth over the limitations of physical forms makes the goal that much closer. Now, we’re not talking about timescales of potential decades, but of years.
Think about the number of people employed in this endeavor. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of engineers, material engineers, programmers, developers, chemists and chemical engineers, models and voice actors and speech specialists, human behaviorists and psychologists, even maybe a few silver-tongued cads thrown in as consultants. How many investors are throwing in millions of dollars into this potential product? How many consumers are waiting in the wind for certain milestones to be achieved to justify their purchase? And how expensive will these things be when they are released? Here we have an industry of vast complexity and technology, working as market forces do, but it’s all for a product that already exists.
Last I checked, there are actual flesh and blood women still hanging around. They haven’t all been spirited away. So why the million and even billion dollar industry to supply, basically, a vagina? I mean, if you’re a man with sufficient clout, or physique, or speaking ability you should find a woman. What gives?
The reasons are many for this, way too many to explain in just a single post, but what is evident at a fundamental level to all of this is that a social failure, or a myriad of social failures, has led to a market picking up the slack and taking the responsibility to provide for those demands.
An economist would say that the market is there to fulfill human demand, but there are human demands that were not always solved by the market. We have a demand for good and loving parents. We have a demand for companionship. We have a demand for love, for friendship, for a fulfilling sex life. All of these things were once provided by social forces, not market forces, but when those social forces degrade to such a degree that they cannot perform the task, the market will.
Let’s say you were to move to a new city and you desire to meet people. If the neighborhoods are sociable and welcoming, then you have fulfilled that need by simply meeting your neighbors. The same principle applies if the area has strong church attendance, or a local music culture, or even pickup groups for kickball in the park. If your area has none of those, and most do not, then you have to get on the Internet, make a profile on some meetup site, and allow technology to play the matchmaker. Even if the site is free, you still have to endure the advertisements. At the end of the day, someone is making money off you.
So when you can’t find a good woman (or man) out there due to societal decline, the market makes a plastic one for you to buy. When we don’t have adequate or strong families, we either have to pay for their maintenance through goodies and distractions, or we pay for the therapy of dealing with them. If we don’t have friends, we either pay for the aforementioned websites, or we pay for the objects that relieve our loneliness. If we don’t have lovers, we pay for the services to find us lovers, and in the absence of that, we pay for the devices that replace them.
The bean counters think this is great because all this spending contributes to GDP, and the merchants like this arrangement because they’re making money by providing a valuable service, and by all appearances we have advanced in some economic capacity, but it is all sleight of hand. Gains in one area only mean we have lost in another.
And make no mistake: the advent of sex bots and virtual porn are not things that come about simply because technology reaches that apex. They aren’t the result of some inevitable, technological determinism. Rather, they exist because of the erosion of strong social networks and influences. Banning the tech won’t fix the core issues. People will only find something else to fulfill that demand, and it’s not like their new fixation will be any healthier than the previous one.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that technology is downstream from society and culture, and that it’s important to keep society healthy, so that you can avoid technological Band-Aids.
This particular market wouldn’t need to exist in a society with healthy social institutions satiating the demand. There’d be no need to pay for something you get for “free,” no investor would throw money at it, and there’d be no need to employ all these people to produce it.
All the engineers and chemists and psychologists and consultants can work on other, more productive things. Instead of an engineer trying to perfect the facial motors of a robot to get that naturally-occurring expression, you can instead get them working on medical prosthetics to actually benefit people. Instead of someone developing fake skin for a sex bot, you get engineers working in materials research for something more important. And at the end of the day, you don’t have to pay for services that are provided for free and provided better.
In short, social technology needs to be maintained and developed alongside material and economic technology. Neither should truly dominate the others, and they must all work in balance and in concert. Many people scoff at social studies and sociology today and see correctly that it is almost entirely focused on things that don’t really matter. Privilege and oppression studies are not the same things as social engineering, and they don’t produce positive results. Those critics then write off sociology as useless, “soft” and ineffective, and I’m not going to argue against them. However, it is because those studies are currently ineffectual and because we are currently experiencing a social decline that underscores the importance of Sociology with a capital S.
Sometime in the future, after a massive paradigm shift, we might consider Sociologists as on par with Chemists, Physicists, and Engineers. The only reason we don’t is because the social science department has been redirected into non-productive ends.
Imagine a world where chemistry was outlawed due to fears of unnatural and hazardous chemicals. Imagine a world where biology or genetics was considered heresy. Or perhaps imagine a world where physics or mathematics was considered so sacred as to be held solely with the Church of Divine Geometry. All would be the setting for dystopian novels, and yet we live in a world where that happened to sociology and the social sciences.
Obviously, the merchants and special interests would not want their potential profits to go away. They would side with the anti-social left to upkeep an unhealthy society that forces you to pay for these sorts of things.
Not only is a healthy social structure important in its own right, but it also results in greater technological efficiency because society is not spending energy, materials, and man-hours to provide something technologically that would otherwise be provided socially. This frees up resources and labor to pursue technological solutions for technological problems, thereby increasing the pace of overall development. There is no need for meetup websites in a world where you can meet your neighbors. There is no need for expensive sex dolls in a world where you can simply meet your partner.