Sex, love and robots: the end of intimacy?

Okay, I’m sorry to inform you the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots won’t be going ahead.


It’s November 2015, and in Malaysia, where humidity is at 89% and it is almost certainly still raining, David Levy, a founder of the second annual Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, is free to talk on the phone – he is less busy than planned. “I never expected to end up here,” he says. I hear a shrug.

The Congress on Love and Sex with Robots was meant to begin on 16 November, but was deemed illegal days after Levy arrived from London. “There’s nothing scientific about sex and robots,” inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar told a press conference, explaining why. “It is an offence to have anal sex in Malaysia [let alone sex with robots].”

“I think they thought people would be having sex with robots or some strange thing like that,” Levy’s co-founder Adrian David Cheok said afterwards, explaining that they had planned a series of academic talks about humanoid robotics. But some strange thing like that, some strange thing like a human having sex with a robot, is what Levy, Cheok and others are predicting is almost our reality. They have seen the future of sex, they say, and it is teledildonic.


Teledildonic. The word rolls around the mouth like a Werther’s Original. While there are a variety of romantic tech-sex developments appearing weekly – from the ocean of Oculus Rift possibilities to an invisible boyfriend who lives on your phone, each new development rich as a Miranda July story but as doom-laden as one of Margaret Atwood’s – it’s teledildonics that are exciting not just the porn industry, but scientists too. Long hyped as the new wave in erotic technology, these are smart sex toys connected to the internet. And while they started life as vibrators that could be operated remotely, today the term has expanded to loosely include the new generation of robotic sex dolls.

David Levy is a British international master of chess. With his white hair and a sharp eyebrow, he has the look of a cynical Einstein. It was chess that led Levy to computing, consulting in the late 1970s on the development of a chess module for home computers. In 1997, and again in 2009, he won the coveted Loebner prize, which awards the programme that is best able to simulate human communication.

In 2007 Levy published Love and Sex with Robots, a book that one USA Today critic found “troublingly arousing”. Just as same-sex love and marriage have finally been embraced by society, he argued, so will sex with robots. “Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans,” he wrote. The dream is, as one would expect, utopian. Prostitution will become obsolete. Artificial intelligence will be the answer to many of the world’s problems with intimacy. “The number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practised between humans will be extended, as robots teach us more than is in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined.”

Levy predicted “a huge demand from people who have a void in their lives because they have no one to love, and no one who loves them. The world will be a much happier place because all those people who are now miserable will suddenly have someone. I think that will be a terrific service to mankind.”
Unless… Unless…
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