Sex, Love & Artificial Intelligence
Marie Claire South Africa|November 2018

We live in an era that has a potential digital fix for everything, including, recently, the substitution of AI robots for human romantic partners. Afika Jadezweni explores what the future of relationships looks like and if AI could transform human sexual intercourse for better or for worse...

In the 2018 book Do Robots Make Love? From AI to Immortality, co-author Jean-Michel Besnier declares that sexuality is ‘possible by any means that permits the release of tension produced in all the erogenous zones of the body’ and that human sexual activity can stretch far enough to comfortably accommodate sex with a robot. For centuries, sexuality has been a playground for fantasies and experimentations. It has been imagined, explored or perfected through different means, from the ancient Indian Hindu text Kama Sutra, to sex toys and blow-up dolls. On that note, a study published in April 2016 by the Statistic Brain Research Institute found that South Africa ranked third in the world for frequency of Google searches related to sex toys, and fifth globally for sex-toy purchases made by women.

More recently, the development of AI has added an extra emotional layer to interactions with tech. Remember Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theodore Twombly in Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her? A visibly lonely man, his life is gradually transformed when he meets and falls in love with a woman named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It is not an unusual rom-com scenario, except for one thing: Samantha is a computer operating system. Her, along with the TV series Black Mirror and Westworld, all depict the substitution of robots for human beings as romantic partners.

This is no longer a futuristic concept: if personalising our mobile phones (thanks to multiple apps) and adapting them according to our lifestyle needs (and at times, narcissistic impulses) is already second-nature for most of us, robotics and AI have already permeated our lives. With people so attached to their mobile phones, documenting and organising entire lives on our devices, it isn’t absurd to think that our reliance on technology has the potential to one day develop into cyber romantic attachment.

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