Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys

Expert believes that sex robots will become commonplace within the next 50 years, while Hongkonger builds his own robotic lady companion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 8:37am

Inspired by sultry cyborgs stalking early cinema to the love-making androids that pepper modern ­science fiction shows, mechanical lady friends have long played cameos in the fantasies of the lonely and frustrated.

But a Hongkonger who recently built his own ­robot woman and plans to teach others to do the same could help make the widespread availability of gadget girlfriends a reality. Robotics hobbyist Ricky Ma Wai-kay, 42, who this year completed his first prototype robot – a busty Scarlett Johansson lookalike – is producing a handbook to help others make their own artificial girls.

Ma, who built his doe-eyed Mark 1 from scratch with HK$380,000 of his own, believes robotic companions may be big business but taking the DIY route is the way to go.

“Many people feel very alone and some people are not skilled at communicating with girls or boys,” he said. “I don’t think they should fall in love with robots but [having a robot companion] could help them psychologically.”

Ma, a product designer, plans to produce the DIY handbook while he raises funds for his second prototype – another female robot with a greater array of ­facial expressions and more natural movement.

For Ma, building a female rather than a male comes down to commercial reasons as he says they are in much greater demand.

Many people feel very alone and some people are not skilled at communicating with girls or boys
Ricky Ma, robotics hobbyist

And where Hong Kong lags others when it comes to robotics research, interest in the industry is growing both here and in the mainland.

While Mark 1 was never engineered as a sex toy, Ma said the sex and robots industry could create a huge market in China. Rudimentary sex robots are already available at online stores over the border, and according to computing and society expert Dr David Kreps, the mainland could become a leading if not the main workshop for their production.

“Over the past decade or more, China seems to have very successfully absorbed the manufacturing capabilities [for robotics],” said Kreps, chairman of the world’s first conference to explore the impact of technology on sexuality that is taking place in the UK in September.

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He believes that sex robots will become commonplace within the next 50 years, and that China, where the rare earth minerals required for computing and robotics are mined but not exported, is perfectly poised to play the lead role in manufacturing the products for what would be a lucrative, if rather contentious market.

The conference taking place at the University of Salford, Manchester, which is part of a Unesco ­recognised international federation that has been bringing together thousands of scientists, academics and industry insiders since the early days of computing, is not the first attempt to discuss the ethics and practicalities of human/robot relationships.

Last year a conference on “love and sex with ­robots” was supposed to be held in Malaysia, though authorities branded the event illegal.

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Attitudes towards the acceptability of the nascent industry differ widely, with trenchant detractors arguing that sex robots could spell the death knell for love and genuine connection and foster sexist attitudes. Proponents say the positives outweigh the negatives, listing a reduction in demand for sex workers and a possible reduction in rape and sexual ­assault among them.

“These are extremely complicated sex toys and that’s it – and sex toys have been dug up from the Neolithic age,” Kreps said. “Intimacy between humans will never go away – haptic interfaces will always been trumped by a lover’s touch.”