Neither robot nor intelligent: the problem with the sex doll that sells this Catalan

Sergi Santos Hernández (Barcelona, 1978) is a scientist, nanotechnologist, and creator of Samantha, a doll of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer, the material from which many hoses are made) that moans and speaks. Import your body from China, put sensors and speakers so that it emits sexual reactions when you touch it and sells it from 3,000 euros on its website.

Sergi founded the company, Synthea Amatus, on February 20. At the beginning of March, coinciding with the opening of the first silicon doll brothel in Barcelona – which closed two weeks ago – he called on the media to tell his story.

“I told my wife we would take it out in June, but in March my sister told me: someone in Barcelona has dolls and she is doing the same thing as you, and I said: no, it’s not the same as me,” she explains by telephone from his house-workshop in Rubí. “I called TV3, where they went from me, and then to La Vanguardia to give them the exclusive, that same morning they came in. From there, it happened to the national, international press, to RT … If this is done by my uncle, who is very ugly. and he does not get women, they would have laughed at him, but I can get them: I’m not ugly and I have an athletic body, so they listened to me. “

Sergi, Samantha, and the Maritsa, his wife, have since been receiving interested journalists from all over the world. The modus operandi is the following: a Chinese supplier brings the bodies and Maritsa (“who has no idea of science”, says Sergi) puts the sensors to “robotize it”. It does not give exact sales figures (“about ten or so”) but it does describe its buyers as “smart people, up to date with technology and who have 3.000 euros, having a woman is much more expensive”.

Samantha, getting comfortable.
Samantha, getting comfortable.

“Do you want a man? Okay, give me 4,000 euros, ” he continues. “This company is mine, it’s about sex and I’ll invest the money as I want, 99% of people who tell me to make a man are women, they say it because the doll is prettier than them, because they are envious or because they see their husband goes with others. “

Samantha is neither the first nor the only sexual “robot”

Sergi’s tone is defiant, his misogynistic responses and his dolls, which he sells as intelligent, one more product in the growing market of sex robots – mostly female ones.

“What is currently sold as sexual robots are human-looking dolls with sensors, voice generation, and some movements, with almost no intelligence, ” says Miguel A. Salichs, from the Robotics Labs research group at the Carlos III University of Madrid. “Nowadays, the technology they have is quite small, another thing is that there are pots tied to sex, as there always have been, and a market that buys them, and they do not need to be technologically advanced.”

What is currently sold as sex robots are human-looking dolls with voice and some movements, with almost no intelligence

It is possible that Samantha, Sergi’s doll, has caught the attention of the media -especially of Anglo-Saxon tabloids- for the moment of launching (Barcelona’s silicon doll brothel also went around the world), because of the accessible and domestic that is its creator (who receives them at home and allows videos and photos) or for its price, which is far from the 10,000 euros that are around the fembots of other companies . Because it is neither the first nor the only “sex robot”.

True Companion has been making noise with Roxxxy since 2010, a doll that she presented as the first at the AVN Expo in Las Vegas, a major convention of the porn industry. Although the web is still active and allows to reserve dolls, there is no evidence that anyone has ever purchased one and, seven years later, its creator claims to be working on new versions but does not present new material.

Some of the wigs available for Roxxxy.
Some of the wigs available for Roxxxy.

RealDoll is more sophisticated and, above all, experienced. This Californian company has been creating hyperrealistic silicone dolls for more than twenty years and its latest invention is Harmony, a “brain” for them accessible through an app: a kind of Her or Siri companion. Your next step is to sell modular heads with that integrated “brain” to put on your wrists. It will be at the end of the year, although they have already been allowed to test several media.

Real Doll and True Companion are the most talked about companies in an industry in the race to see who presents the “most robot” sexual doll. And in these has been Sergi, who says that now seeks three million investment to industrialize their production.

A Real Doll doll (Stacy Leigh)
A Real Doll doll (Stacy Leigh)

Men making women: a story with more than 2000 years

The illusion of men to shape the perfect woman – whose physical complies with the aesthetic canon, which accompanies but does not bother and never says no – is very old.

In her book ” My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids and Other Artificial Eves “, Julie Wosk, professor of Art History at the State University of New York, reviews the history of literature, industry, and film from the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.

Pygmalion was a sculptor who, “dismayed by the defects of the female spirit” carved an ivory statue that he called Galatea and fell in love with. The story, told by the Roman poet Ovidio, explains how that artistic creation was superior to a real woman: its echo and the idea of creating and possessing a simulated woman has remained in our culture ever since. “Reveals the enduring male fantasy”, explains Wosk, “to make the ideal female”.

Scene from 'Lars and a real girl'
A scene from ‘Lars and a real girl’

The examples based on the myth are eternal: there are books, ballets, operas, series and films that reflect it. ‘Frankenstein’s girlfriend’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Perfect women’, ‘Lars and a real girl’ or ‘Her’, to name a few, repeat the idea that human women can be improved.

The apogee of this tradition is the production of fembots. “While in film and literature there are Galateas created by women who take control of themselves [Wosk gives the example of ‘Ruby, the girl of my dreams’, written by a woman], the engineers who manufacture female robots define them with His ideas of perfection There are cultural differences in the feminine ideal, but the fantasy about artificial women remains, “he writes. “With the growing technological sophistication, these robots are increasingly real and bring men closer to the perfect woman paradigm.”

What genre do we put to the robots?

“Eva is built to make her the partner of the man, Adam,” adds Galicia Méndez, a feminist expert in robotics with a gender perspective. “Before there was a construction of the ideal woman by controlling reproduction, that process has become much more technological in the physical sense.”

In 2005, Kazuhiro Kosuge, an engineer from Tohoku University in Japan, introduced his robot dance partner. Lacada in fuchsia pink, dressed in a voluptuous dress and topped with Mickey’s ears, the creation of Kosuge conjugated, for Wosk, all the trends in the development of robots that we would see since then.

“During the first decades of the 21st century, the field of robotics has been slow to consider issues related to the robot genre,” the book explains. “Academics, especially in Korea and Japan, are studying how to make their fembots even more realistic, but they are not aware that their research is defined by their attitude towards women.”

Sergi Santos and his wife Maritza Kissamitaki with their sex robots (Reuters)
Sergi Santos and his wife Maritza Kissamitaki with their sex robots (Reuters)

It is not necessary to reach the sexual robots to see that the robots have been acquiring and perpetuating the gender stereotypes that already exist in society.

Here are two examples: in 2008, a group of MIT researchers asked about the influence of their gender on human behavior. They took a humanoid robot without gender and put male or female voices to ask participants to donate money to a cause. When the voice was female, men were more willing to donate than when male. For women, the gender of the voice did not matter.

Four years later, in 2012, two German scientists made another experiment: they showed the participants portraits of robots-some with short hair and others with long hair-and asked them to talk about what tasks they could do. Robots with short hair (male) were perceived as better for technical tasks(such as fixing appliances) and their mathematical skills, while robots with long hair (female) fit them in housework, care, and verbal skills. Now consider why Siri, Alexa and “her friends” always have the voice of a woman.

“It’s a very interesting topic,” says Salichs, from Carlos III University. “Probably there is no answer as to which gender is better, it will depend on the user, there will be people who prefer it male and another female”. “Gender is a social construct”, recalls Méndez. “If we need to grant robots gender, it’s because something happens.”

A dancer robot developed in Japan (Xavier Cervera)
A dancer robot developed in Japan (Xavier Cervera)

Back to the sex dolls, the market is very obvious: they are all feminine. RealDoll estimates that less than 5% of its customers are women and even plans to withdraw its line of male robots, which exists because it barely sells. The argument of those who equate sex dolls with female dildos has no weight, because all these dolls have a voice and, in the case of Sergi, up to “family mode”.

“The equivalent of a doll is not a dildo, it’s a doll, ” says Méndez. “There are male consolers who give pleasure and are not an anthropomorphic social entity that speaks to you, this maintains the idea of power, the only thing that saves it from being a crime is that the dolls are objects.”

Against the sexual robots

Kathleen Richardson is Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and Artificial Intelligence at the British University De Monfort and two years ago launched the media campaign Against Sexual Robots. His plan was to open the debate on how these dolls objectify women -and girls- and reinforce power relations, inequality, and violence.

“When we launched, we were against the idea that these commercial devices replace human relations,” he recalls today in statements to this newspaper. “What I did not realize was how widespread misogyny is, women and girls are not considered completely human, if they were, there would be no pornography or prostitution.” Sex robots are a new iteration of this misogyny, so now we will campaign to be banned. “

Richardson equates the model of sexual femot to that of prostitution, which objectifies women. But much of current feminism does not consider that prostitution has to be abolished, but regulated as work that is.

The difference between a prostitute who works with freedom and a sex robot? The consent. Sex robots are not programmed to say no . “Everything my doll does is positive, it will never tell you not if you start penetrating it,” adds the creator of Samantha. “I see very ridiculous that says no.”

So no matter how much they talk to you about released robots, it’s not true. “The gynoid can not give her consent or deny it,” Méndez adds. “This is not for people who want a sexual buzz, but for people who want to continue exercising power relationships that do not complicate their lives.”

Does anyone think about the rights of sex robots?

Last September, Sergi took Samantha to the Ars Electronica festival in Linz (Austria) and a group of men hit her and broke her . The news came out in Austrian media and from there it jumped to Anglo-Saxons and even Spaniards, but its creator takes away iron: the journalist, she says, took it out to sell an article because people love to read “rape”.

As they are considered objects (and their intelligences are not developed) everything related to the right of the fembots has to do, at the moment, with rights of image and privacy.

Samantha never says no.
Samantha never says no.

Technology specialist lawyer Jorge Morell recalls two cases: ” A Japanese engineer created a robot like Scarlett Johanson . There is an image problem that person and their personal rights is generated . You could ask him not to , ” he says. “Another case: the dildo that acquired information from the body of the person, if the system has some kind of sensor that acquires information, the manufacturer can use it, it is a singular problem and that can happen with these robots as well”.

“A more futuristic vision raises questions about intelligent autonomous entities,” he continues. For example: the European Union already imagines laws for machines and Estonia works on a law that endows artificial robots and intelligences with legal personality . However, “the European Union focuses on useful instruments and tools, on vehicles, drones or robots at the factory and most issues revolve around the responsibility of the manufacturer,” concludes Morell. “There are no other issues for other types of robots, and it would also have its logic.”

Sex Doll available at this price in the USA market


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