TECHNO – Avoir des relations sexuelles avec des robots “c’est pour demain”, a prédit un chercheur en intelligence artificielle lors d’une conférence consacrée aux jouets sexuels interactifs et aux relations avec les humanoïdes, organisée à Londres les 19 et 20 décembre.
Si le cinéma et la télévision, avec récemment par exemple “Ex Machina” et “Westworld“, ont largement exploré l’idée des androïdes comme objets de séduction, les robots sexuels restent pour l’instant du domaine de la science fiction.
Cela devrait changer rapidement, prédit toutefois le spécialiste David Levy, “avec l’arrivée des premiers robots sexuels quelque part l’an prochain”.
L’entreprise californienne Abyss Creations a en effet annoncé vouloir mettre sur le marché dès 2017 des robots sexuels qui présentent toutes les apparences de l’humain. La société propose déjà des “poupées sexuelles” grandeur nature depuis des années, mais va maintenant leur donner la parole. Elles pourront discuter avec une personne, lui demander comment s’est passée sa journée, etc.
Le sexe à distance
En attendant, les dernières trouvailles en matière de jouets sexuels électroniques ont été présentées lors de la conférence organisée par l’université Goldsmiths de Londres, comme cette application mobile permettant aux couples d’échanger des baisers à distance et baptisée “Kissenger”.
Une autre application qui propose d’échanger des bruits et sensations de léchage, “Teletongue”, est en cours de développement à l’université Keio de Tokyo. Encore plus loin et plus bizarre, le site BlowCast propose des fellations via internet, en enregistrant d’un côté les sensations et en les retransmettant de l’autre, avec des sextoys connectés.
Lynne Hall, du département de sciences informatiques de l’université britannique de Sunderland, estime que les robots pourraient créer “une expérience sexuelle fantastique”. “Il y a plein d’avantages au sexe avec les robots… C’est sûr, vous n’attrapez pas de maladie, vous pouvez contrôler”, a-t-elle mis en avant. Et selon elle, il n’y aucun risque de le voir supplanter le sexe entre humains.
Les mariages avec des robots pour 2050?
“On nous inculque une sorte de panique morale… ‘c’est dégoûtant… personne ne fera plus l’amour avec un humain'”, dit-elle. “Mais les gens regardent régulièrement du porno et continuent pourtant de faire l’amour avec des êtres humains.”
David Levy, auteur en 2007 du livre “Love and Sex with robots”, qui a donné son nom au symposium londonien, va plus loin et estime que l’homme pourrait aussi envisager d’épouser des robots dès le milieu du siècle.
Les robots du futur seront “patients, gentils, protecteurs, aimants”, jamais “jaloux, vantards, arrogants, brutaux”, a affirmé David Levy, par ailleurs champion international d’échecs britannique. “A moins évidemment que vous ne le souhaitiez”.
Selon sa vision, des parents robots pourraient devenir une norme sociale, avec des lois promouvant “l’identité robot”. “Le temps viendra où le débat théorique devra évoluer en loi et les conséquences de ces lois seront stupéfiantes”, présage-t-il.
Pour le moment cependant, envisager des relations sexuelles avec un humanoïde va trop loin pour beaucoup de monde, souligne Emma Yann Zhang, une étudiante de City University de Londres qui a travaillé sur le prototype “Kissenger”.
Une étude menée par l’Institut d’imagerie de Malaisie, en collaboration avec la City University, montre en effet que si les gens sont ouverts à la possibilité que des humains puissent être attirés par des robots, la plupart n’envisagent aucunement de prendre un robot pour amant, a-t-elle souligné.
Ein Smartphoneaufsatz verspricht räumlich getrennten Paaren sinnliche Kusserlebnisse auf Distanz. Dabei zerstört der »Kissenger« eher den Charme einer Fernbeziehung, findet unsere Autorin. Hilfreich wäre er dagegen für Eltern von Teenagern.
»Ein Kuss ist der Vulkan des Herzens«, sagte der deutsche Lyriker Christian Friedrich Hebbel und wenn das stimmt, dann wogt ganz Deutschland auf einer Welle glühend heißer Liebeslava, denn angeblich küssen sich deutsche Paare etwa fünfmal am Tag. Das jedenfalls gaben 34 Prozent der Befragten einer Umfrage des Meinungsforschungsinstituts Yougov an. Besonders häufig küssen sich demnach Paare ohne Trauschein, wohingegen mit der Ehe sowie zunehmendem Alter die Kussfrequenz eher abnimmt, jedoch nie unter die »Zwei-Küsse-pro-Tag«-Marke fällt.
Dabei ist gerade in Langzeitbeziehungen, auch das belegen Studien, regelmäßiges Küssen eng gekoppelt an der Grad der Beziehungszufriedenheit, enger sogar noch als Sex. Ein Problem, dass vor allem Paare in Fernbeziehungen umtreibt, denn Sex kann man zur Not noch mit sich selbst haben – küssen jedoch kann man bekanntlich nicht allein. Nun will ein neues Smartphonegadget diesen Paaren zu intimen Kussmomenten verhelfen: Der Kissenger, ein Kompositum aus Kiss und Messenger, vorgestellt auf einer Messe in London zum Thema »Liebe und Sex mit Robottern«, ist eine Art Smartphonehülle mit integriertem Kuss-Screen. Küsst man ihn überträgt er den Druck der Lippen dann auf den Kissenger-Kuss-Screen des Partners.
Man könnte das für eine alberne kleine Spielerei halten, einen niederschwelligen Zugang zu Virtual-Reality-Sex, der ja seit Jahren als das nächste große Ding angekündigt wird, und noch ist fraglich, ob der Kissenger wirklich in Serie geht. Man könnte in ihm jedoch auch ein Symbol sehen für die Banalisierung des Kusses, beziehungsweise für mangelnde Definitionsschärfe, wenn es um die Frage geht, ab wann man das Aufeinanderpressen von zwei Mündern als Kuss bezeichnen kann. Denn wenn das, was der Kissenger kann, irgendetwas mit einem echten Kuss zu tun haben soll, vielleicht nicht das Selbe aber doch immerhin nah dran, dann ist nach dieser Logik der Gebrauch einer elektrischen Zahnbürste nah dran am Blowjob, das Überstreifen eines T-Shirts nah dran an einer zärtlichen Berührung, Fahrradfahren über Kopfsteinpflaster nah dran an leidenschaftlicher Kopulation, gemeinsames Anstehen am Stadionwurststand nah dran am Gruppensex.
Tatsächlich könnte der Gebrauch des Kissengers Paaren genau das verleiden, was einen der wenigen Vorteile einer Fernbeziehung ausmacht: Sich noch wirklich mit jeder Faser seines Körpers nach dem anderen sehnen zu können. Dieses Sehnen quasi wie eine Magmablase in sich wachsen und brodeln zu lassen, um es dann – wenn man sich endlich wiedersieht – zu einem Kuss kommen zu lassen, der eben wirklich ein Vulkanausbruch des Herzens ist, so wie Hebbel ihn beschreibt. Das sicherste Zeichen für eine langsam einschlafende Beziehung ist nämlich nicht die abnehmende Kusshäufigkeit, wie die eingangs zitierte Umfrage suggeriert, sondern einzig und allein der Grad der Bussifizierung. Wenn ein Paar sich fünfmal am Tag ein Bussi auf die Lippen schmatzt, egal ob real oder virtuell, ist es damit sicherlich noch lang nicht glücklicher miteinander als ein Paar, das einmal in der Woche einen wirklich intimen Moment miteinander teilt und sich innig und mit Hingabe küsst.
Der Kissenger ist also völlig ungeeignet, um räumlich getrennten Paaren ein Gefühl von Verbundenheit und Nähe zu geben. Vielleicht sollten die Hersteller einfach die Zielgruppe überdenken: Marktpotential hätte der Kissenger sicherlich für Eltern pubertierender Kinder, die so einen für beide Seiten akzeptablen Weg finden könnten, auch weiterhin an ihrem Nachwuchs herumzubusseln.
Long-distance relationships are difficult because not only is your lover completely removed from your day-to-day life, but you have absolutely zero possibility of tangible physical intimacy. This is sad. Researchers from the Imagineering Lab at City University London think they can solve this problem, however, with their new Kissenger gadget. The device mimics a real kiss using pressure sensors and actuators. It’s purely for regular pecks on the cheek or mouth — no tongue simulation is available. Sorry.
The Kissenger pairs with a messaging app that lets a user send a kiss, so when one is sent, the Kissenger measures pressure on different parts of the sender’s lips to replicate that exact kiss on the recipient’s Kissenger. The lip part of the device is made of silicon. I don’t think it would feel as nice as a regular kiss, but hey, who knows. Maybe a cold silicon device pushing against your lips would feel good if you knew it came from a loving place.
So far, the team has created a functioning iOS prototype that plugs into a device’s headphone jack. This is clearly not future-proof as the iPhone 7 doesn’t even have a headphone jack. But okay still, maybe one day the Kissenger will let you kiss your lover, or your mom, or even your favorite celebrity. That’s a nice thought at least.
Technology allows us to interact with our family, friends, and lovers over a distance like never before. We can see and hear them in real time, constantly exchanging messages and information. But the importance of physical interaction to the quality of these relationships is still grossly underestimated.
“Making regular physical contact is essential for maintaining closeness and intimacy in human relationships,” explained Emma Yann Zhang, a Postgraduate Researcher at City University London. She demonstrated her prototype Kissenger device to an enthralled audience at the conference. “Haptic communication is very effective in conveying one’s feelings and emotions as well as evoking a sense of presence in a remote environment.”
Described as a “Real-time Internet Kiss Communication Interface for mobile devices,” Kissenger transmits multi-sensory kissing sensations over the Internet. It works by using a plugin, haptic device that attaches to your mobile phone via its audio jack, producing bilateral force feedback in the form of both pressure and vibration.
“The dynamics of the movements and pressure felt by the human lips during kissing cannot be accurately reproduced by vibrations alone,” Zhang said. The haptic device needs to generate a series of localized forces in order to capture the haptic sensations during kissing.
To achieve this, her team designed an array of linear actuators positioned evenly across the lips to generate normal forces on the skin surface. The same number of force sensors resistors are placed on top of the actuators to measure the contact forces between the human user and the haptic interface. The design works like a phone case to make more space at the back of the phone for those sensors and actuators.
The power of a kiss
“Kissing is the most direct and effective way of sharing an intimate moment and Internet communications should allow people to connect to each other through this form of interaction. Studies have shown that a higher frequency of romantic kissing between couples increases romantic satisfaction and reduces stress levels,” Zhang said. She added that even people who would consider certain types of kissing inappropriate were OK with the electronically mediated sort and found the experience interesting.
I watched as Anna Malinowska from the University of Silesia in Poland shared a Kissenger moment with Clinical Sexologist Chloé De Bie. Malinowska said that she indeed felt a real sense of connection to her partner, even though they’d never actually touched.
It is interesting to see how such devices, even in a public environment, can engender a sense of intimacy and interconnectedness, and how this can be done in a non-sexual way as well. The aim, according to Zhang, is to provide an intimate communication channel not only for couples, but for families to physically interact over a distance.
Parents could use Kissenger to give their children a kiss on the cheek when they are away at work, for example. It could also be used for both one-to-one communication and one-to-many communication (another potential use-case cited by Zhang is of a pop star blowing fans a collective kiss, which each person could experience on their device).
A multi-sensory smooch
The Kissenger team is now investigating the possibility of incorporating the scent communication device, Scentee. It would emit the perfume or a distinctive scent associated with the user’s partner to create a multi-sensory experience. Smell is an important factor that directly affects our emotional responses to a kiss. When two people are kissing, they are close enough to detect a class of genes present in body odor called MHCs, which determine our sexual preference and compatibility to a person.
Zhang said she believes that emitting a partner’s body odor during kissing helps to create not only a stronger sense of physical presence but also strengthens affection. The next step will involve incorporating other sensory modalities, taste and smell as well as temperature and moisture, to provide a full multi-sensory communication experience.
But for users who want to go a beyond kissing, Daisuke Yukita might have the answer. He’s been working with his colleagues Fathima Assilmia, Nadira Anndhini, and Dolhathai Kaewsermwong at Keio University in Japan to design lollipops that give a whole new meaning to “tickling your tastebuds.”
Teletongue is a device that enables remote oral interaction between two people. One Lollipop senses the licking gestures and sound of the user, while the other one vibrates according to the gestures and playback of the recorded sound.
Developers started off with incorporating a microphone into the lollipop to enable them to listen to the user’s licking movements. It seemed to make sense, therefore, to make said lollipop into the shape of an ear. “We modeled a human ear with 3D modeling software Maya, which we then 3D printed,” Yukita said.
The current version of the Teletongue system consists of a pair of those ear-shaped lollipops (which are not only edible but also tasty, according to Yukita) connected to an Arduino microcontroller. The microcontroller processes the sensed data from one lollipop (collected through a USB microphone that records the licking sounds and a Touché sensor to sense the gestures).
It then outputs the processed values into the other. The device is even able to distinguish a normal lick (without the lollipop entering the user’s mouth), from a full lick (the lollipop entirely inside the user’s mouth). The output lollipop contains a vibrator, which vibrates lightly with a light lick, or more strongly with a full lick.
“There are many teledildonic devices designed to support intimate connections, but this is meant to provide a more natural way of enjoying intimate relationships that blends seamlessly into everyday life.” The aim, said Yukita, is to create a device couples feel comfortable using in public.
“We focused on the act of kissing and licking, which many have no problem doing outside of their home. For it to be a normal, everyday device, it also needed to be an object that everyone is familiar with and something that people have no problem putting into their mouth. We believe that using commonly known forms such as a lollipop will decrease people’s reluctance in putting an electronic device into their body, in this case, their mouth.”
It’s still a work in progress, in that it doesn’t yet work in real time like Kissenger does. But the team is working to use the ZigBee protocol to incorporate that in future and connect the two lollipops remotely via the Internet so users can enjoy Teletongue simultaneously.
“We’re soon going to move on to testing on real life couples,” Yukita said. “We hope that Teletongue will be the first step to a more open and casual usage of sex toys and teledildonics, one that is not embarrassing, but comforting and bonding.”
We’re experiencing a huge surge of interest in the field of Human-Robot interaction, reflected not only in the news but in the barrage of cyborg-themed films and TV shows filling our screens. What they all have in common—from Westworld to Humans, Ex Machina to the highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel—is a fixation on what our relationship with machines will look (and feel) like in a future that is both dystopian and titillating.
So it was no real surprise that the Second International Congress on Love and Sex With Robots, held last December at the University of London, attracted a lot of attention. With the adult entertainment industry already evolving virtual reality much more quickly than it evolved streaming video or webcams, and advances in fields like Natural Language Processing (NPL), we are getting much closer to the point where artificial intelligence will be able to pass the Turing Test and become effectively indistinguishable from human intelligence. We might have once laughed at the concept of Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron, but sex with robots is pretty much a foregone conclusion—and it will probably happen much sooner than experts previously thought.
In fact, David Levy says that when he first wrote the book that eventually inspired the conference, he predicted that the first human-robot marriages would occur by 2050. When asked the same question at the conference, he told the audience it is entirely possible this will happen much sooner.
Among the philosophical discussions, there was also opportunity to showcase some eye-catching gadgets. There was the Teletongue, a pair of ear-shaped lollipops developed by researchers at Keio University in Japan, programmed to react to each other based on the users’ licking sounds and movements. There was also a device named Kissenger, which connected two mobile phones for a “Real-time Internet Kiss Communication Interface.” Its creator, Emma Yann Zhang, explained that such haptic devices were actually very effective in conveying feelings and emotions and helping to evoke a sense of presence in a remote environment. According to her, the importance of physical interaction to the quality of our relationships is still grossly underestimated.
This is something that Ghislaine Boddington has been researching for over 20 years. She believes that so-called “body technologies” have enormous potential to connect people romantically, emotionally, physically and sexually through devices that blend with our physical selves. She coined the term “Internet of bodies” to describe the way that such devices will eventually enable us to network our responses, giving a whole new meaning to “keeping in touch.”
“Physical intimacy goes way beyond sex, or even romance,” she explains. “It’s rather about attachment, and this includes how we feel about each other, our environment and all the objects that surround us. What excites me now is actually the convergence of these technologies and bringing them into our bodies to create new types of intimacy and hyper-enhanced sensualities.”
We already live in a world where technology is so embedded in our lives that most of us don’t realize how often we check our phones. But the next logical steps in that relentless integration between mind, body and tech might see us do away with those artificial interfaces altogether. We would, quite literally, embody out technology.
Read on for a few technologies that could bring about this sensual revolution.
FROM WEARABLES TO IMPLANTS
Boddington believes that our quest to augment our existence and indulge in new experiences will lead us to turn our bodies into “digital interaction canvas.” Our relationship with technology has already become much more intimate since the widespread adoption of devices like the FitBit, which monitor a broad range of physical data, but wearing such devices around the clock can have its drawbacks. The next generation of wearables is likely to be much less cumbersome and intrusive, such as DuoSkin tattoos made from gold leaf. They’re not only quite beautiful; they’re easily customizable to a variety of designs and can be used to control a variety of mobile devices. “Through the user-friendly fabrication process, we enable people to design and create their own skin technology,” explains Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, the MIT researcher leading the project. The transfers communicate using NFC tags made from chips connected to coils and are surprisingly hard-wearing, comfortable and inexpensive.
The next logical step, then, would be for implants to become increasingly accepted, and we’re already much further along that path than you might think. When Donna Haraway published her seminal Cyborg Manifesto back in the 1990s, she pointed to many kinds of common implants. That number has gone up dramatically since then, ranging from tooth and breast implants to pacemakers and devices that provide deep brain stimulation to Parkinson sufferers. Tiny implants in your hand can already replace accessories like a payment card or key fob, and we will see this become a lot more pervasive in years to come.
“There are probably over 200 kinds of implants around at the moment,” says Boddington, “and these are all very programmable. So as these become increasingly integrated into our lives and less of a taboo, we’re potentially looking at a sort of ‘body hacking’ scenario that takes us beyond this traditional—and rather artificial—mind-body separation.”
One rather mind-blowing possibility is that of embedding nanotechnology in gels, which could be used to stimulate our erogenous zones. This type of technology effectively means that microscopic robots within the gels can be programmed to collect data from our body and react to it according to our preferences.
Boddington makes clear that this type of application is still speculative, but the technology itself already exists and is being used (no pun intended) to lubricate robot joints.
“There’s nothing to stop us developing this into gels we could apply to our erogenous zones,” she explains. “These could provide straightforward tactile stimulation, or help you sync your reactions to that of your partner.” We could even be looking at scenarios where data from your body could be used to personalize virtual reality content in real time to fulfill needs and fantasies you didn’t even know—or admit—you had.
Advances in virtual reality will help us create a sense of “hyper-presence” which will allow us to project ourselves into virtual worlds in unprecedented ways, according to Boddington. That might be hard to imagine in the context of the cartoon-like avatars we see in most VR platforms these days, but advances in technologies such as morphing, sampling and 3D-scanning will soon allow us to create much more personalized avatars capable of conveying emotion.
The importance of realistic movement is something that she’s very aware of, coming from a dance and performing arts background: “The intimate interplay between body language and presence is a key part to enabling a sense of full immersion in VR,” she explains. “Touch, caress gaze, it all feeds into it. The way your skin brushes against another, the feel of a heartbeat or the sound of someone’s breath. Over the next 10-15 years, we will see a convergence of these technologies with things like virtual and even mixed Reality holograms to enable ways for us to meet each other and be intimate in new ways, whether you’re in the same room or over distance.”
The most exciting possibilities of the next decade are therefore not in creating autonomous machines to be become our proxy lovers, but in incorporating those machines into our own bodies, creating a true symbiosis between our “real” and “virtual” identities. When the wealth of data collected by these embedded devices is leveraged to connect our bodies both to our fellow humans and to other machines, it will open up an entirely new array of possibilities. It could forever change how we relate to our physical selves. Pleasure, sexual and otherwise, would no longer be tethered to any particular space and time; It would live within us.
With the tremendous advancements in technology today, long distance relationships have never been easier to maintain. While video chats and WiFi-enabled messaging services take away some of the trials and tribulations of cross-country courtships, you can now skip the Skype kissy faces and lock lips with your long distance love through Kissenger.
Aptly named for its comical combination of a kiss and a virtual messenger, the gizmo allows you to “kiss” your loved one from afar. While the quirky invention may seem straight from the future, it’s actually very simple: composed of plastic, motors, and a large, silicone pad (nothing says romance like a large, silicone pad!), each apparatus attaches to a smartphone.
The “kiss” is stimulated by a motorized mechanism beneath the silicone that applies a unique patter of pressure to the lucky recipient’s lips or cheek. While it’s geared toward wistful romantic partners, the peculiar product also promises to bring families closer together and even unite fans with their celebrity idols.
Sending kisses long distance has become easier. In the past, people used written letters (maybe a woman left her lipstick imprint on an envelope sealed with a kiss). Then there were the sounds of kisses on the telephone, xoxo on emails, air-blown kisses on the internet, Skype and more. Now researchers have further developed new ways for people to communicate their affection and intimate feelings long distance in the digital age.
Developers at Lovbotics created the “Kissenger” system billed as “The World’s first mobile kiss messenger” which lets users press their lips into the soft lips of a cute little round device laden with sensors. When nested to a mobile phone with a special app, Kissenger transmits the pressure of their lips through a real-time data stream over the internet to a person far away who holds up their own little device to their face. A small module with the device even reproduces the sender’s scent (could be body odor or perfume) and the receiver—it is said— can even detect the sender’s chemical pheromones.
At the Goldsmiths University of London conference “Love and Sex With Robots” held December 19-20, 2016, one of Kissenger’s developers Emma Yann Zhang of the City University London demonstrated the kissing machine robot to audience members eager to try it for themselves. Said one kiss recipient, laughing, “I miss the wet feeling of a kiss.”
Zhang said she and other developers (at Japanese and Malaysian universities) aim to someday implant Kissenger in a robotic head made of silicone or in a humanoid robot like Anita, the character in the popular British/American television series Humans. She mused that Kissenger could also be useful for online dating if a woman wanted to detect if a man was a good kisser before she even met him (Zhang felt this factor was especially important to women).
The conference also yielded some other gadgets for communicating affection long distance. Teletongue, a project being developed at Keio University in Japan, lets users lick what looks like a human ear (made using 3D modeling) which has an embedded microphone and sensors. The sound of their licking—and the vibrations—are transmitted through a computer to a friend who holds a “lollipop” device. The developers, including Daisuke Yukita, say the device is a “natural way of enhancing and enjoying intimate relationships.”
These devices with their promise of virtual affection fit right in with the idea of sex robots (sex robots with artificial intelligence aren’t ready yet but are slated for production by California’s RealDoll, Abyss Creations sometime in 2017). Whether virtual kisses and digital licks are a good substitute for the real thing—-now that can be debated, but they certainly look like fun.
Holidays can be a rough time for those who are truly married to their jobs but also have a human that they love in their spare time. Enter the Kissenger, a new smartphone peripheral that allows anyone to send a smooch live via video chat.
Named after former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger* who rained bombs on millions of people from half a world away, the device is simple. It’s a little larger than a protective case and has an oval silicon “lip” at the bottom. High precision force sensors register a user’s lip movements and miniature linear actuators replicate those movements on the device of the person being kissed.
It’s easy to imagine that this could make lovers feel like kids again, always anticipating that moment of the kiss. An awkward conversation plays out about how the flight was, while their eyes drift towards that big, freshly sterilized silicone pad. Waiting, longing.
But, Kissenger is more than just a way to maintain intimacy. Emma Yann Zhang, the creator of the device, presented it at this week’s Love and Sex with Robots conference. She believes that humans will inevitably become more intimate with A.I. or robots and that the ability to share a kiss could be an important factor in that bond. She also makes it clear in a recent report that “this research will not attempt to conclude whether it is ethically acceptable to have intimate relationships with robots.”
As with any communication technology, the project is also about collecting data. Researchers will record statistics about blood pressure and heart rate in lab tests to see if users can be affected in the same way that they are by a real kiss. And eventually, Kissinger’s creators hope to pass the Turing test. Will lab subjects be able to tell the difference between a kiss from a person and a kiss from a computer simulation?
Kissinger is Zhang’s PhD project and she plans to continue with her research at the City University London lab of Adrian Cheok. We probably shouldn’t expect a product for consumers very soon.
*this project is not named after Henry Kissinger, its name is a combination of kiss and messenger.
Nothing says Christmas like a conference called “Love and Sex with Robots”. While many spent the week contemplating the birth of a baby two millennia ago, Goldsmiths University played host to the second international congress on congress with machines. One of the team said drily that it was great to see such a large number of journalists at a specialist academic gathering.
I can’t have been the only person to have shifted guiltily in my lecture theatre seat. There’s no doubt the topics under discussion were fascinating for anyone familiar with Blade Runner, Westworld, Humans and even Austin Powers, where human attraction to robots is a key theme. A study cited by one of the speakers reported that around 40 per cent of men would happily purchase a sex robot given half a chance.
At this point an American colleague looked up TrueCompanion.com (“The World’s First Sex Robot”) on her mobile and showed me a 10-grand example of their wares, who bore a startling resemblance to Melania Trump. Then Emma Yann Zhang, a computer science PhD student, took to the floor to demonstrate her “Kissinger” device, which transmits simulated lip-on-lip pressure to loved ones via a mobile phone app. You rather wonder what the not-entirely-peacenik Henry K makes of his smooching namesake.
Social media and apps can let us feel close to our partners, even if they are living in another city or country. But what’s missing is physical contact. That is why researchers at the City University London have created Kissenger, a gadget designed in the form of a smartphone case that features an oval rubber “lip” at the bottom. Special sensors on it are able to register users’ movements and kisses’ pressure. The device then transmits pecks directly to a recipient. Metro spoke with Emma Yann Zhang, co-creator of Kissenger, to learn more about the device.
Why did you create this device?
Actually, my professor Adrian David Cheok is the inventor of Kissenger. He came up with the original idea of a machine that allows people to share a kiss with each other over the internet. The Kissenger device was built for people to better express intimacy and emotions remotely through long-distance kissing. It aims to fill in the missing dimension of touch in traditional digital communication, which largely focuses on verbal and audio information. We believe that physical touch is the most important channel to communicate one’s emotions and to maintain close relationships with your loved ones on the other side of the world.
Do you believe in long distance relationships?
I believe in long distance relationships because I have been in a five year long distance relationship myself. The most difficult thing for me was the lack of physical intimacy, and I think this is a problem not just for long distance lovers, but also for families (parents and children) living apart due to work reasons.
How does Kissenger work?
The device simulates human kissing. It has a lip-like interface made of a soft rubber material, that interacts with the user’s lips and measures their pressure with force sensors. Underneath the lip interface there is an array of actuators that generate real-time force feedback on various points of the partner’s lips to replicate the pressure sensations of kissing. This interaction is bi-directional, so you can feel your partner’s lip pressure at the same time.
Do pecks sent over Kissenger feel real?
Many people who tried it felt that although it is not as realistic as a real kiss (because of the lack of temperature, moisture, etc.), the idea of having your loved ones on the other side of the world receiving these pecks has a great emotional value.
The strange new world of cyborg mermaids, “teledildonics” and Japanese robots modelled on Scarlett Johansson came under academic scrutiny at a conference last month.
The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots had already been banned in Malaysia and was described by a British tabloid newspaper as a “sex festival”, but its second annual event nonetheless went ahead as planned at Goldsmiths, University of London on 19 and 20 December.
In her opening keynote speech, co-organiser Kate Devlin, senior lecturer in computing at Goldsmiths, noted that “sex tech” now represents “a $30 billion [£24 billion] global market”. Yet this market attracts polarised reactions.
On the one hand, explained Dr Devlin, there were techno-optimists such as David Levy, CEO of Intelligent Toys, whose 2007 book Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships saw great therapeutic potential in robots for those otherwise unable to find a partner and predicted that “the first human-robot marriage will take place in the state of Massachusetts around the year 2050”.
Opposed to him were activists such as Kathleen Richardson, senior lecturer in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University, who has spearheaded the Campaign against Sex Robots, on the grounds that they “objectify women” and “raise issues of slavery and parallels with sex work”.
Dr Devlin wanted to get away from the image of sex robots created essentially for men’s pleasure and asked: “Why do we gender robots at all?” If we are already, she continued, “providing robots for care and companionship in old people’s homes, why not sex tech too?” Furthermore, if robots ever became genuinely conscious or self-aware, that would raise a host of additional issues.
Dr Devlin posed the questions: “Will robots have to give consent? What if they prefer sex with each other? And do they have a right to a family life?”
Jessica Szczuka, a researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen, reported on evidence that the market for sex robots constituted “more than only a fringe group”. In a sample of 263 heterosexual men, just over 40 per cent “could imagine buying a sex robot over the next five years” – and it seemed not to matter whether they were in a relationship or currently claimed to be enjoying a good sex life.
Emma Yann Zhang, a PhD student at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, described the work they were carrying out on Kissinger, “the world’s first mobile kiss messenger”.
Participants put their lips to a device that can transmit the exact patterns of pressure to a partner on the other side of the world. This can be combined with a video call and a sniff of the person’s perfume (or even their body odour) to create a fuller sensory experience.
“People don’t understand the social meaning of such digital kissing,” reflected Ms Zhang. Women from Muslim backgrounds, brought up never to have any physical contact with men before marriage, seemed to have no hesitation at “kissing” colleagues in this way, she said.
There might also be a role for Kissinger in online dating, so potential partners could have that crucial first kiss before actually meeting up, she suggested.
The conference featured some startling predictions about what the future of sex might bring.
Dr Levy recalled that his PhD thesis, Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners, had brought the University of Maastricht “more publicity than any other in its history”.
In the past decade, “the trend of robotics research and development, from industrial robots to service robots to companion and carer robots, has as its logical continuation the design and construction of robots sufficiently human-like and sufficiently appealing in various ways to take on the role of a partner in a relationship with a human being”, he said. Now “sex with robots is just around the corner, with the first sexbots coming from Abyss Creations in California some time next year”, Dr Levy added.
As same-sex marriage has gained rapid and widespread acceptance, attitudes to relationships between humans and robots could evolve equally rapidly, he argued.
Adrian Choek, professor of pervasive computing at City, University of London, believed that “robot sex will become so much easier and more convenient”, although people might use a human partner for an occasional treat – just as those who generally listen to recorded music go to a live concert once a year.
Yet amid these startling scenarios, other contributions reminded us just how strange and individual human sexual preferences can be. Asked what they would look for in a sex robot, one female panellist wanted one “looking like an Avatar”, as portrayed in James Cameron’s 2009 science fiction film of the same name. Another female panellist expressed a preference for “something I could cuddle, something soft, silky and squishy – except in the places it needs to be not squishy”.
“The Kissenger device was built for people to better express intimacy and emotion remotely through internet kissing,” Emma Yann Zhang, a PhD student at City University London, told Digital Trends. “It aims to fill in the missing dimension of touch in traditional digital communication, which largely focuses on verbal and audio information. We believe that physical touch is the most important channel to communicate one’s emotions and to maintain close relationships with your loved ones on the other side of the world.”
Kissenger isn’t the first of such devices to emerge from the Imagineering Lab. Cheok’s past projects have included the Huggy Pajama and RingU, both of which digitally transmit the sensation of touch from one wearer to another.
To be sure, these devices aren’t exclusively designed for couples. Zhang insists families could benefit from the added affection as well. And it apparently isn’t limited to human-human interaction, either.
The researchers demonstrated Kissenger last month at the Love and Sex With Robots conference in London, where experts and enthusiasts discussed the growing implications of sexualized androids. In that vein, the Imagineering Lab is also planning to integrate the device into a kissing humanoid robot with interactive lips. “With new types of technologies and interfaces that enable physical intimacy between humans and robots,” Zhang said, addressing a subject that remains controversial, “I believe that we can form more humanistic and intimate relationships with robots.”
For now the researchers are looking for commercial partners and investors to bring Kissenger to market so you too can soon smooch your long distance partner.
Una superficie in silicone registra pressione e durata del bacio per poi riprodurla su un dispositivo simile
Non è facile esprimere i propri sentimenti in chat. Quando le parole non bastano siamo soliti ricorrere alle emoji ma se anche queste non sono abbastanza, cosa fare? Bé, c’è Kissinger.
Curiosa idea made in UK, è una cover che si connette al telefono e ti permette di spedire baci realistici a un altro utente dotato del Kissinger. La cover, sotto, ha una parte in silicone dotata di pistoncini e sensori su cui poggiare le labbra. Questa registra pressione e durata del bacio mentre il destinatario può poggiare la superficie in silicone su labbra o guancia per sentire sulla pelle una riproduzione del bacio ricevuto.
Va detto che al momento Kissinger è solo un prototipo, non può essere acquistato e, a dirla tutta, non sappiamo neanche quanto il bacio sia realistico. Per saperlo bisognerà aspettare che gli ideatori, due ricercatori dell’Imagineering Lab della City University of London, lo facciano diventare realtà. Per ora quindi non ci rimane che consultare il sito web dedicato per conoscere ogni aggiornamento in merito.