You feature in Channel 4’s forthcoming documentary “The Sexbots Are Coming”. Could you start off by explaining what your job is?
I’m the CEO and Creative Director of Realbotix, so I think of myself as the Producer, I guess I come up with a lot of the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. I rely very much on the team to help me execute that.
How did you end up building a sex robot? Presumably that wasn’t what you set your heart upon when you were a kid…?
Well, firstly I don’t necessarily think of harmony as a sex robot. The definition is a little bit all-encompassing, but not always in a good way. I really think of her as a robot, period. She is equipped with varying levels of Artificial Intelligence and she is capable of sex, but it’s a robot that’d designed to have that as one of its functions.
So how did you get into the business?
I started out making the RealDoll in ab out 1997, and the original concept I had was really just a really realistic, posable, life-sized figure that looked real enough that it would cause people to take a second look, because it’s not something that you would see every day. I had seen mannequins and sculptures, and all of these things inspired me in different ways, but not of them were ever really posable. When you look in a wax museum or things like that, it’s a very static display. The position and the clothing were very rigid and set, and that would be the culmination of the piece. I wanted something that was dynamic, that people could actually manipulate and position and pose. That was the original idea, and what happened was that a lot of the people that found my little web page were contacting me, edging for the anatomically correct aspect for the doll, and so I saw an opportunity as an artist to make a career out of it, and I went with it.
Tell us a little bit about Harmony – what can she do? Give the sale pitch.
Well, it’s a customisable Artificial Intelligence app that can be configured to the user’s tastes by choosing variable personality traits and how dominant those traits may be. They can customise the voice that they hear, and the avatar that they see on the screen to represent that AI. And then they’re able to take that character that they’ve created and are interacting with and connect it to the robot. Its main function is companionship and conversational context – being able to have a conversation with an AI or a robot is rally the primary function – but insofar as human relationships go, it’s kind of designed to be an alternative to that – it’s a new form of interaction that didn’t exist before.
Is it true she can recognise people?
Yes, she can differentiate people, and create different profiles for a certain number of people that she may interact with. And she can remember things about those people. So that’s the idea, and we are currently working on the vision systems for the robot so that she can actually take that a stage further and use facial recognition technology to assign a profile to a face – so she’ll be able to recognise her owner, and differentiate that person from someone else. She would be bale to recognise a new person and say “I have never seen this face before, who is this?” That’s the idea.
What has proved to be the most difficult part of the build?
I think the challenges are multi-level. You have the electronics and mechanical components that are working in conjunction with the AI itself, which is a lot of code and programming, and then you have the outside, the appearance, the face. Getting all of those aspects to work smoothly together in an appealing way, that’s the big challenge.
How much does your product retail for?
The robotic heads will vary from $6,000 to $10,000, and the bodies that you can attach them to will vary from $4,000 to $8,000.
What do you see as your market for these? Are you imagining this is going to be for a specific type of person?
I think, ultimately, this is something that is designed for anyone that sees a use in it, or sees a potential aspect of it that they find appealing enough to want to own it. So you could definitely have people who are opting for this as an alternative relationship, as a companion. And you’ll have people who may opt for this as a technological advance, something very new and exciting that they maybe find appealing. There’s really no set definition of who this is for. We’re following our passion and what we want to build, and we believe that there are other people who will share that passion, and will understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It can be used in so many different ways. The technology could be used to create a robotic receptionist, for example, or it could be used in trade shows as a marketing tool. You can put applicable information into the AI, depending on the setting, and it will be able to perform whatever that task may be.
Can you envisage a scenario where you would consider having one of these at home, or does the fact that you’ve seen behind the curtain take away the magic for you?
I can definitely see wanting something like this, there is no question. If I were not involved in the making of this I would definitely be very, very curious about it, and it would be something that I would find appealing.
This isn’t you working in a studio on your own. How many people do you employ?
Realbotix is a partnership of three different groups of people, so all-in-all, we probably have about 15 people dedicating their time to this. My RealDoll factory, which makes the RealDolls, is another 15 people. It’s certainly not an effort that I can take credit for on my own.
You make male dolls. Will you be making male robots as well?
Absolutely. I’ve just finished the first male robot head, and we have a male version AI in the works, that will be forthcoming shortly.
So are they male robots behaviourally different? Do they have different personality traits from the female robots?
Yeah, there definitely are gender-specific traits and behaviours that you would expect. There are definite differences in the approach on the creation of them.
There will be those who do not like the idea of what you are doing, with regards to the sexual function of the robots. What would you say to them?
I think that focussing on that is probably short sighted, because ultimately the goal and purpose of this project is so much more than a simple sex device. It could be looked at in much the same ay as you could look at a computer, and some people may use that computer to look at adult videos, but that does not mean that that’s all the computer is for. So ultimately this is being designed to perform a multitude of tasks,. Mostly focussing on human companionship rather than sex itself.
Yours is a sex doll business. Do you think the robots will ultimately replace the dolls?
I see them as having two equally strong futures. I view them as branches of a tree. There are going to be aspects of both that will continue on their path.
As robots are getting more intelligent and interactive, and coming into our homes, do you worry about the possibility of AI going too far?
I actually think people that have that kind of response to the concept of AI probably have watched too many science fiction movies. I really think that, ultimately, it’s a very beneficial technology, and a tool that can be used in so many different ways. For us to fear change, and to fear technology is short-sighted, and is only limiting the advancement of humanity.
The Sex Robots Are Coming, on Channel 4 Thursday 30th November at 10pm