Will sex robots ever become a reality?

And will they be as realistic as Gemma Chan in Humans?

BAFTA nominee Humans
She's only human? Will sexbots like Gemma Chan ever become a reality? Image Picture Channel 4

Gemma Chan has just revealed that filming has begun on the second series of Humans. And with it, the idea of robot sex has floated back into everyone’s minds.

The ideas of human identity in Humans are obviously more complex than “Does sex with a robot count as cheating on your wife?” Channel 4’s drama is deep and serious enough that it’s nominated for two Baftas this month.

But Humans is definitely quite a lot about sex with robots…

“The same advances in artificial intelligence that are creating robots who can work in factories will, inevitably, also creates robots that are really, really good at having sex.”

Author Robert Colvile explores the idea of sexbots in his new book The Great Acceleration. A former journalist for Buzzfeed and The Daily Telegraph, Colville’s book examines how society is speeding up as new advances in technology happen every day.

And his research also explores how sex and technology are becoming so advanced that getting it on with robots is looking ever more likely.

Will we one day awake to a world of android Gemma Chans? Colvile explores the idea in his exclusive article for Loaded…

It was almost a century ago, in 1920, that mankind invented the concept of the robot. And for almost as long, we’ve been wondering what it would be like to have sex with them. From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Ex Machina via Austin Powers, the sexbot has a long and inglorious history.

“It’s generally OK for a wife to use a vibrator while her husband’s away. But what if that vibrator not only looked human, but could talk back to her?”

The truth, however, is that the reality has always failed to match the fantasy. But as technology races ahead, that could be – is – changing. As I point out in my new book, the same advances in processing power and artificial intelligence that are creating robots who can work in factories or trawl through legal documents will, inevitably, also creates robots that are really, really good at having sex.

Sex robot Roxxxy
I'll stick to the wife, thanks Inventor Doug Hines (right) with Roxxxy, the world's first functional sex robot, in 2010. Image Picture Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The key to this won’t just be their technical specifications: the addition of “vibrate” and “massage” settings to the reproductive act. It will be their capacity to learn: to monitor your words and your bodily reactions to work out what feels good, and keep doing it.

There are some big, fascinating questions here. Will we still ultimately prefer human partners – a genuine connection, as opposed to an automatic process? Within existing relationships, would the use of a sex robot be considered cheating? It’s generally OK for a wife to use a vibrator while her husband’s away. But what if that vibrator not only looked human, but could talk back to her, lending a sympathetic ear while she pours out her woes? Will there be a stigma attached to their use? Or will people proudly show off their latest new model?

“Sexbots could even download a new personality if you fancy something different”

Many of these questions ultimately boil down to the issue of whether we will teach these robots as objects, to be used then put away, or as people. And the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you think. Already, people in Japan have become so attached to their sex dolls – their “Dutch wives” – that they give them proper funerals.

Now imagine a sex robot that can actually provide a genuine facsimile of emotion. Just as it iterates in the bedroom, learning what you like then doing more of it, it could do the same around the kitchen table – monitoring feedback from its conversations and interactions with you, and gradually making itself into more and more of a perfect partner.

Great Acceleration author Robert Colville
C-3POoh Author Robert Colvile believes robot sex is a possibility.

The US psychologist Sherry Turkle has studied how easily children form relationships with robot toys: it’s not a stretch, she says, to imagine people developing the same attachments as adults, cutting themselves off from human contact in favour of hollow, algorithmic, automatic satisfaction.

Yet David Levy, author of the book Love + Sex With Robots, has a much more optimistic take. There are millions of people out there, he says, who are being let down by the current romantic marketplace. “For these people, life is tragedy,” Levy told me. “Many, many people have asked me: ‘Isn’t it much better to have a relationship with a human being rather than a relationship with a computer?’ But in my view, that’s not the right question. It’s: ‘Is it better to have a relationship with a robot than no relationship at all?’”

Even those who are happily coupled up could, in Levy’s view, benefit from a little help from robots. Their capability to learn and provide feedback – and their inability to judge and condemn – will make them the perfect sexual tutors, able to help those with particular psychosexual hangups, or who are seeking to define and determine their own sexuality. They could even download new personalities when you fancied something different – or one human partner, stuck at work, could take over control, in a hi-tech version of phone sex.

“The capability of robots to teach all known aspects of sexual technique will turn receptive students into virtuoso lovers,” Levy enthuses. “No longer will a partner in a human relationship need to suffer from lousy sex, mediocre sex, or anything less than great sex.” Just make sure you’ve double-checked the privacy settings first.

Robert Colvile’s book The Great Acceleration: How The World Is Getting Faster, Faster is out now from Bloomsbury.

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Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn