Love and Sex with Robots: The Next Step of the Relationship between Man and Machine?

by Nikki Olson on March 8, 2011

Back in 2007, computer chess programming guru David Levy wrote a provocative book about robot-human relations entitled Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. In it he made a number of bold predictions regarding future relations between humans and machines, the most surprising of which being that we would fall in love with robots.

Fast forward 4 years (and almost 3 Moore’s Law cycles) and it seems as though his predictions are no nearer coming true than they were when he made them. David Hanson’s skin has gotten more realistic and more people know about Hiroshi Ishiguro’s real looking androids, but many important developments stand in the way of our considering robots something we could one day fall in love with.

So what’s standing in the way of our moving more quickly toward robots as companions?

In an interview with Levy earlier this year, Dr. Kim Solez inquires into what obstacles there are in creating the robots envisioned in Love and Sex with Robots.

Perhaps surprising, Levy doesn’t think there are any real psychological obstacles in the way of our making robots our romantic companions. In fact, he thinks, “It’s almost entirely a question of investment.”

He explains:

“Up until now, most of the interest in robot-human relations has come from Japan and it’s well known that the Japanese government is facing a massive social problem in coming decades because of the percentage of its population that will at an age where they will need a lot of care and there simply won’t be enough people to provide that care.  And so the Japanese governments decided some years ago that the answer lay in developing robots, ‘carer robots’ to look after the elderly. I think that this is the main effort in the world in this direction and I’m sure that it will come to fruition because the problem faced by the Japanese government certainly won’t go away and their desire to implement the solution is really firm.”

There are two other financial trends outside of Japan that will contribute. For one, other major countries will become large investors:

“There are also some other major advancements I think that will be made that will encourage people to work more on human-robot relations. One is the fact that Korean government has decided that they want to have a robot in every home. And I think when you look at what’s going on in Japan and what’s going on in Korea it’s not difficult to extrapolate and assume that the Chinese will decide that robots are a good thing as well. So I think that all of this effort that’s going on in the far east will lead to a very dramatic increase in interest in robot friends, robot carers, robot partners and human-robot relationships in general.”

The other major component is the investment capital going into gaming and other ‘personality’ computer interfaces:

“The other trend that I think we’re seeing already is that many of the computer applications that we see now a days in games and other spheres involved having some kind of personality in the computer. And that again is another feature that will be necessary in robots that humans become friends with.”

He is fairly optimistic about the progress being made towards robot-human love:

“So I think that all trends are moving in the right direction, but it just hasn’t yet reached a critical mass, but as the investment is continuing at the government level, I think it inevitably will.”

Generational turnover is another key aspect in the development of ‘robot-human’ bonding. Levy points out the significance of ‘growing up with robots,’ arguing that the next generation will find the idea far less objectionable.

Some progress has been made in making animated sex robots. At last year’s Adult Entertainment Expo, Douglas Hines, founder of  True Companion LLC, presented Roxxxy, a sex robot that is said to have an interactive body and personality. However, Hines’ robot isn’t capable of very much and Hines hasn’t done very well with Roxxxy.

It seems there is more to the story than Levy’s perspective entails, but perhaps not.

Justyna Zander of the Singularity University thinks that relationships with early robots could be compared to relationships with psychopaths in that they would show no real empathy or regard. Empathy is arguably the most crucial component of love and sex in human relationships.

But even if we reach a day where machines are thought to be as conscious as we are,  and hence, in theory, capable of empathy, would there not still be some psychological barrier to falling in love with a machine, no matter how human it seemed?

Could this really be the future?

As counter-intuitive human-robot relationships might seem today, there are many reasons to think that love and sex with robots will happen. Robots are already better in math, logic, chess, jeopardy and many other activities. Is it not probable that eventually, as Levy says, a robot companion will provide much more than a human companion in every conceivable way?

About the Author:

Nikki Olson is a writer/researcher working on an upcoming book about the Singularity with Dr. Kim Solez, as well as relevant educational material for the Lifeboat Foundation. She has a background in philosophy and sociology, and has been involved extensively in Singularity research for 3 years. You can reach Nikki via email at [email protected].


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  • CMStewart

    I recall a recent TV show featuring a man with agalmatophilia who “married” a mannequin. This mannequin was not a robot. It was basically a human-sized doll. It didn’t talk or move. It just sat there. The man said he was in love with the mannequin, and that they watched TV together, ate together, and slept together. Though in reality he was doing all the watching, eating, and sleeping. She was just sitting / lying there. I guess if “marrying” a mannequin is possible today, I would have to say “marrying” a robot is possible tomorrow.

  • Nikki Olson

    Have you seen the film “Lars and the Real Girl”?

    “Lars and the Real Girl is a 2007 American comedy-drama film written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie about a socially inept young man who develops a romantic relationship with an anatomically correct doll he orders online”

    I saw that in summer of 2008 right after I read Levy’s book :) (great independent film)

    In Levy’s book he makes note that already people are doing these kinds of things which is one of the reasons he is so confident that his predictions are correct. When my writing partner and I interviewed him in January he mentioned the importance of ‘warmth’ in the development of all the things he proposes; robots as companions and lovers need to be the normal body temperative of humans. The coldness of current options he sees as a real obstacle.

    Glad to see you’re so optimistic about this kind of future :) After being in the futuristic community for a while I think one becomes kind of desensitized to these ideas. But to the mainstream public I think the notion is still quite objectionable.

  • CMStewart

    Haven’t seen that one yet- I added it to my list, thanks.

    Mainstream views of robots will eventually catch-up with cutting-edge views of robots, and eventually the new cutting-edge will be even “freakier” than we can imagine today. From what I’ve read and seen in the media, it doesn’t take much to “convince” a person to anthropomorphize a non-person, or even a non-living object. I predict that fifty years from now, the line between “living, sentient person” and “non-living, non-sentient robot” will be blurred.

  • Nikki Olson

    Hi Matthew,

    I would point out that I am making a statement about the speed of progress with regards to cultural factors for the most part (demand, namely), and by extension, the lack of progress with regards to consumer products that people feel affectionately towards here in the West. Cultural desire has not produced enough demand such that any large corporation is moved to work on these products. We see some ‘AI’ in the toy industry, but its rather unimpressive.

    I write; “but many important developments stand in the way of our considering robots something we could one day fall in love with.”

    -we could ‘one day’ fall in love with. I happen to think that day is fairly long off. At least in terms of falling in love with a humanoid android. We will ‘fall in love’ with robotic pets much earlier. Some would say that’s already happened in certain parts of the world.

    I would also point out that a lot of progress in this direction was made with the Sony AIBO robotic dog. The product was decent for what it was (a dog) in terms of interface and many people felt affectionately for it.

    Then, despite technology getting cheaper and intelligent interfaces getting better, Sony decided to stop manufacturing the robotic dog. The explanation for this seems to me to be more ‘demand’ than anything, since similar robots in Japan are doing a lot better.

    Incidentally, in the interview with Levy my writing partner and I did in January, he expresses ‘cost’ as the main inhibitory factor with regards to the AIBO’s failure. The cost of the AIBO would be better if the demand was greater, so again, the reason points to ‘cultural’.

  • Nikki Olson

    I agree! We anthropomorphize everything, even when we try not to.

    I attended the Singularity Summit this past summer in San Francisco where David Hanson had one of his AI heads displayed, ‘Zeno’ ( Not bad looking, but I attempted to have a conversation with Zeno and it didn’t go so well. He was able to answer questions about the Singularity very well, but got none of my other questions right. If only Watson (and his 750 servers and then army of air conditioning units) could fit inside Zeno’s head, then we’d really have something. There are videos of what this experience was like online: ( I would note that because Zeno was positioned in the main meeting area of the conference, there was a lot of disturbance with background noise. The material in Zeno’s face, he calls the kind of material its made out of ‘frubber’ (unfortunately…?).

    “Dr. David Franklin Hanson, Jr , the founder of Hanson Robotics, owes much of his success to Frubber. Frubber is a revolutionary material with a porous structure that allows it to move similarly to human tissue. Previously used materials were too heavy and too stiff. Using Frubber, Hanson can create a wide range of realistic facial expressions while cutting the need for powerful actuators. Typical applications using Frubber consume more than 20 times less power than with traditional materials. A realistic face and neck can run for hours using just a few AA batteries.” (

    Anyway, it was pretty nice feeling. Not realistic, because again, the ‘warmth’ is a crucial missing component.

    Outlined well in ‘Sex Bombs and Burgers’, so and so (name author) writes about how many important technologies that become adopted by the mainstream are first adopted by (or first thought up by and in demand from) the adult entertainment industry, and so a lot of funding for what in the end becomes mainstream technology actually starts in the adult entertainment industry. Home video cameras are one example. This is a fairly undisputed point, many technology theorists recognizing this connection. However, I wonder to what extent this will continue in the future due to the financial hardship of the adult entertainment industry as of late. Who knows, maybe something surprising will happen in the industry that will push research forward substantially when it comes to robots. But I think I agree more with how Levy looks at it, that the funding in this instance is going to come from governments concerned about aging populations as well as cutting costs in general through automation. In the news yesterday, this factory robot that looks pretty good: ( I think this shows evidence of people starting to think about robots in a sexual way.

  • CMStewart

    Thanks for the links!

    Zeno speaks and moves like he’s inebriated. I was pulling for him. From “Sorry, I spaced out there for a second” to “What is your credit card number?” LOL I’ll have to introduce Zeno to a friend of mine (the alien abductee)- she really goes for his type.

    Interesting you would mention the adult entertainment industry’s connection to cutting-edge technology. Last year I wrote a Singularity farce (not yet published) with several hinted-at (PG) sexual encounters between a human and a robot-hologram hybrid. The protagonist of my novel is a phone sex operator, and the Singularity is driven, in part, by the antagonist’s desire to “merge,” sexually and emotionally, with his robot-hologram creation.

  • Socrates

    Ha, this really sounds like an interesting setup…

  • CMStewart

    The novel is a farce, but most of the characters are based on real people who are prominent and / or recognizable in the “Singularity arena.” The personalities and a few of the names are very recognizable. It greatly enhances the farcical humor. I don’t yet know if that will be an issue.

  • CMStewart

    You’ve probably seen Zeno’s buddy Geminoid:

    I’ve wached this several times and every time I get a weird feeling that he’s “trying” to say something, though intellectually I know he’s not. Slightly disturbing (my reaction, not the robot).

  • Nikki Olson

    I agree :) Zeno has some similar characteristics.

    Here is a question for you; (everyone)

    In human-human relationships, jealousy is something very common if not universally occuring, from time to time and to varying degrees over the course of a relationship.

    Eventually robots will be able to do things way better than we can, but do you think that would lead to jealousy? Seems odd to be jealous of another species.

    I personally think that a lot of jealousy instincts are tied up in instints stemming from mating. Since we wouldn’t ‘mate’ with robots its hard to say if the same jealousy would occur. Probably it would. This is a question that we asked David Levy but he didn’t really have an answer for it.

  • CMStewart

    I tried to imagine myself competing against a robot for the affections of a love interest. I think I would behave similarly to how I would behave competing with a human love rival. I’d show my ex-love interest the door. But in this case I’d say, “And don’t forget to take your WD-40.”

  • Socrates

    It would most definitely lead to jealousy. Just like when I hug and kiss my wife her little Yorkshire Terrier gets apparently very jealous, starts trying to get our attention and tries to get in between us ;-)

  • Jojo
  • vanyseline

    is it true that robot can fall in love with human? is it true, i want it. Maybe if i can have robot boyfriend, it ‘s my true love haha LOL.

  • Carz

    I think human level intelligence in robots will take much longer than the optimist perceive.  It may even be impossible.  Can the brain really create an intelligence the same level as itself?  Some say the mind(brain) can never completely understand the brain in the sense of whole brain emulation.  I caution this hypothesis from the record of history and underestimating science and progress.  I do think we may one day be able to understand the inner workings of the brain and create general artificial intelligence, however these equal intelligence robots may not come around until the year 2200 or possible as late as the year 3000.  It’s hard to predict.  As for relationships, I do think if created it will not be strange at all and we will be able to look past falling in love with a machine. If full of empathy, intelligence and all other human qualities and physically real, I think there will be many robot-human relationships.  It won’t seem strange at all, but there always will be conservatives and/or religious people that will reject the notion and will not participate or shun others for doing so.  And others will just think its strange.  I think around 60% of a population will be open to it and enjoy the diversity.

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