Concordia research aims at understanding individual attitudes and perceptions towards artificial erotic agents.
In the past weeks, Concordia students might have stumbled upon an unusual request glued to various bathroom stalls; research on sex robots looking for participants.
As with any subject confronting our sexuality, mixed with the feared and misunderstood rise of technology, the expected reactions are strong, ranging from laughter to repulsion.
“I think it is eerie because it is kind of disrupting the process of individuals getting to know their bodies at an intimate level whether it is with a partner or by themselves,” said Georgette Ayoub, Concordia Political Science student.
Yet, Simon Dubé, the man behind the research and Ph.D. student in Psychology, Neuroscience and Cognition of human sexuality at Concordia, says these reactions are quite natural.
“These are first impulse reactions,” said Dubé. “It’s not unique reactions with sex robots. We had the same with video games, with pornography. It used to be the same thing even with radio, people used to think it would lead to the destruction of society. It’s always blurred out of proportion.”
Indeed, there is a climate of moral panic when it comes to technology. Are robots going to replace affection, or even love? Such reasoning can be explained by the fact that only a few studies have been done so far, and most of them are done on human interaction with computers; none have dug into erotic interaction.
Therefore, the research is interested in people’s reception towards emerging artificial agents, such as virtual erotic partners, virtual chatbots and of course, the infamous sex robots. Dubé hopes to further the understanding of their impact on our society and the relationship humans can develop with E-robots.
And for everyone wondering, no, the research doesn’t actually include having sex with robots. When students register to participate in his study, Dubé, who works with the Concordia Vision Lab, uses a number of different techniques, such as questionnaires, to track people’s responses to images, videos and audio related to erotic machines.
While technology has taken over a huge part of our lives, it only makes sense that it now arises in our sexuality. Dubé argues that his research only comes at a time where there is a cluster of all technology coming together to enable these erotic machine interactions.
“The idea of having sex or an intimate relationship with non-living objects has been here for thousands of years,” said Dubé. “I think at this point, it’s a matter of the technology emerging right now related to artificial intelligence, such as sex robots, computing or augmented virtual reality. These are all achieving a level of interactivity and immersivity that is starting to become interesting for people, to use them in their relationship or intimacy.”
Arguably, the fear of including robots in our intimacy or sexuality derives from pop culture-producing fiction. Just think of the utopic, robotic cold-hearted world created in almost every episode of Black Mirror. The picture is always a classical one, where an apocalyptic world is shown as a result of what could happen if we start including these technologies in our day to day lives.
Dubé warns us of the danger of such misconceptions, arguing that this discourse is at the very root of why they have such trouble doing research on something that could be beneficial for a lot of individuals.
“People have really polarized ideas on what these technologies can do, but for some people, it can be super helpful,” said Dubé. “It can be part of their sexuality with their spouses, their partners or alone. Yes, humans develop problems with all kinds of technology, people get addicted to video games per example, but artificial erotic agents could help people with trauma, or anxiety related to sexuality or intimacy. It’s always the same music that plays over and over again, but here we just need to do the right kind of research.”
What Dubé means by the right kind of research could result in positive applications of these erotic technologies in health and medical research, and even Sex Ed. It could be used by people who’ve experienced sexual trauma to help them reintegrate sexuality into their lives, or by people having a hard time finding partners, dealing with their own orientation or simply out of curiosity.
“The key message I want to get across, is that it’s simply not gonna be an apocalypse or a robot utopia or virtual reality utopia where everything is going to be beautiful or dark,” said Dubé. “It’s going to be somewhere in the middle, for some people, it’s an amazing experience and it’s an integrated part of their sexuality and for others, they might have a problematic dynamic with these technologies. But we need to overcome this idea it will be all black or all white.”
Either way, with erotic technologies, we are now standing at the beginning of a new sexual revolution.
Graphic by @joeybruceart