Stop me if you've heard this: a Texas man is suing for the right to marry his Apple computer. Actually, stop me anyway. Chris Sevier's real aim is to get the Supreme Court to overturn its decision legalizing gay marriage, but his federal lawsuit is so bizarre that not even Texas will back it. The state's Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a district court to dismiss it on the grounds that Obergefell v. Hodges does not extend to nonhumans.
And yet, even as Sevier was filing what Texas--the state that sued the Obama administration a whopping forty-six times--regards as a frivolous lawsuit, the world's first robotic brothel opened its doors in Barcelona, Spain.
LumiDolls offers an in-house sexual experience that it promises will "allow you to fulfill your fantasies without any limits." Presuming, of course, that you find sex dolls attractive. To be sure, these are no inflatable throwbacks. "All our dolls, like all women, have an oral, vaginal, and anal orifice," the company says, adding that they are "completely realistic ... both in the movement of their joints and to the touch." Except that they are completely devoid of choice, personality, or will.
But that may soon change. Pau Ferriz, a partner in the LumiDolls venture, says that the company has planned from the outset to have its "sexual dolls" approach the kind of lifelike performances found on the HBO fictional series Westworld.
"In the future, LumiDolls will be able to interact more with the client," Ferriz said in an email interview for this story. "They will be perfected, offering new functionality] ... that matches virtual reality with the relations with the dolls."
Matt McMullen, founder of RealDolls, aims to get there first. His Southern California-based company is producing sex bots that possess not only "highly realistic" genitalia but also artificial intelligence (AI) generated personalities. The "Harmony" personality prototype already exists and can carry on a conversation--especially if the topic is sex. McMullen aims to incorporate AI into the sex doll, along with some animatronics, to produce a highly realistic sexual experience for his clients.
Realistic, but not too realistic. Researchers have found that when a robot is difficult to distinguish from a human it wanders into "uncanny valley." That is to say, people experience revulsion at its failure to emote and behave just like a real person. McMullen knows this and has a counterstrategy.
"You can look at the best of my dolls, and you can still tell that's a doll," he says in a New York Times video interview. "If you keep away from super-realism, you're in safer territory."
Meantime, over at Dame, Inc., realism is the last thing on the list. Enterprising young women are designing ergonomically and visually appealing sex toys for women. In what may be a blow to male egos everywhere, their most popular products look nothing like a penis. "Women report wanting products that are aesthetic," explains Dame CEO Alexandra Fine, who describes herself as a "pro-sex activist and capitalistic-feminist."
Can this be the future of sex? The idea may sound as ridiculous as claiming a right to marry a laptop, yet technology has already asserted its presence in human sexuality to a remarkable extent. Bryony Cole, host of the Future of Sex podcast, predicts the pace of change in the next thirty years will likely exceed that of the past three hundred.
"What we are finding is that technology is helping [people] explore their sexuality in an entirely new way," Cole says, "and that is creating new sorts of products."
A COLLAPSE OF TRADITIONAL MORALITY?
Complex changes in human sexuality are already underway. They raise concerns about freedoms, boundaries, language, the role of the state, the power of religion, and the future of autonomy, intimacy, relationships, family, childrearing, and sexual minorities. Many have deep implications for humanism.
The single most important technological change in sex to date has been contraception. Some forms had been in use for centuries, but early in the twentieth century Margaret Sanger (1957 Humanist of the Year) ignited what would become a global revolution in birth control. With backing from Sanger and her investors, "the pill" propelled that revolution to escape velocity. It hit the market in 1960, and a few years later the Supreme Courts discovery of a right of privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut assured that married women, at least, would have access. Eisenstadt v. Baird, brought before the high court by humanist Bill Baird in 1972, established the right of unmarried people to use contraception just as married couples.
Conservative religious leaders railed against the decisions, predicting a collapse of traditional morality. In a sense, they were right: the traditional confinement to the roles of wife and mother fell by the wayside as sexually active women stampeded into higher education and then knocked over barrier after barrier on their way to becoming a majority of college students and a majority in many graduate and professional schools, including law. "It all starts with educational attainment that leads to greater economic stability for women and their families," Adam Sonfeld of the Guttmacher Institute said after releasing a 2014 report on the benefits of contraception.
Those benefits have had stunning social effects. Until the end of the nineteenth century, women in the United States, like women everywhere, were typically married off sometime between their tenth and eighteenth year. The average woman gave birth to seven...