Engadget interview with Matt Mullen at CES 2018
Engadget, an online magazine about electronics advances, paused gawking at all the new toys at CES 2018 long enough to interview Matt Mullen, the founder and CEO of RealDoll and it's affiliates, including Realbotix. I will not go into the details of the interview nor will I make moral judgments about sex dolls, sexbots, and so on. Instead, I will shift my perspective a little bit, back up a few steps for a wider view, and try to grasp the larger social implications.
Our world is changing very rapidly. It is safe to assert that human history has never passed through the kind of massive and dramatic shift that is coming. The great "Industrial Revolution" took nearly a century. The "Information Age" is not even half a century old. The Robotics Age is next, and it has already begun. There are many ways to date the beginning of an era, but I prefer to start with the moment the impact of a new technology or new culture could no longer be ignored. 2017 saw the widespread application of automated ordering boards and computer tablet-based ordering at food service chains all over the world. Menu boards are now commonplace in Europe and Asia, and are rapidly spreading through the Americas. Tablet-based menus are a feature at coffee shops and restaurants in every major airport in the world, and have even found their way into Appleby's and Red Lobster restaurants. By 2020, menu boards and tablets will be the standard method of ordering food at every major restaurant chain in the world. Every single one. This is the beginning of the robotic age.
No one is out there studying the real social impact of this change. At the 2010 CES, TrueCompanion's Roxy made a huge splash as the first sexbot made available for sale to mainstream markets. In response, RealDoll bought a robot maker and brought it under their wing, refocusing the design and research team to finding way to animate RealDoll sex dolls. The culmination of that project is in the video above.
Whether we are ready or not, regardless of whether anyone likes it or not, robotic sexual companions are now here, at least for men. (Matt Mullen in several interviews has promised to have a male version available for the ladies by year-end.) No human can ever match a robotic personality for loyalty and cooperation. Humans are considerably more complex than the artificial intelligence that controls robots. Before long, probably within five years, it will be possible to create an artificial intelligence just as quirky, neurotic, and complex as any of us, but seriously, why would we want such a robot? Let's keep insanity a human quality, shall we? Cold, machine logic can be tempered and prevented from becoming destructive through a few simple programming tricks. Robots rising up to destroy humans is unlikely, assuming we are careful with our programming parameters. If we are stupid enough to program a robot sociopath with the wherewithal and ability to destroy humanity then we deserve to be destroyed. Even worse, if society reaches a point where having sex with another human, producing a child, and nurturing that child to adulthood is considered a form of insanity, then we will be extinct in a single generation and will deserve it.
Within ten years, anyone with a full-time job or a decent passive revenue stream will be able to buy a robotic social and sexual companion. Men will no longer need to put up with hysterical or uncooperative women and women will no longer need to put up with controlling or abusive men. Men and women both will no longer have to endure the pain and heartbreak of a real relationship. The fantasy of buying a completely loyal companion, trading that companion in on a newer model when you become bored or disenchanted with them, and so on, will not only be possible, it will become the social standard we all live by. By the time children born this year are adults, they will enter a world where human relationships are completely optional. Will the majority of them choose human companions or robotic ones? Only time will tell. Equally important, by the time children born this year become adults medical technology will have ridden the robotic wave to a place none of us can imagine yet: immortality or something close to it. Within another half-century, and possibly within a decade, some of us will be as close to immortal as it is possible for a human to be and our most loyal companion will be a robot. It is even possible that within half a century the vast majority of us will have these options available.
I am fifty-six years old. I am healthy enough that I am not on any routine medications for chronic conditions. No heart disease, no high blood pressure, no cholesterol medication, none of it. If I live to be sixty-six, which is extremely likely, then it is possible I could live to be nearly two hundred years old. This is not even a "best case scenario" likelihood. This is so realistic that most of the world's wealthiest people are assuming it will come to pass. One of the major reasons so many of our economic elite are unwilling to part with their wealth while also working hard everyday to compile more of it, is that they are assuming this is the generation that will live forever. Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and all the rest of them are assuming they will need their money to last for centuries because they will live for centuries. In their condescension and elitism, they despise the rest of humanity, so they are very much looking forward to a world with a few hundred thousand extremely intelligent and extremely wealthy people living in isolation surrounded by robotic companions. They see this as a perfect utopia. They have embraced this possible future completely. They might allow their spouses and children to come along for the ride, but you and I they simply do not need.
This where I begin to grow very confused. The IT elites, starting with Bill Gates and stretching down to new telecom billionaires being created right this moment in India and China, are looking forward to a world without the rest of us. However, their ability to sustain their elaborate lifestyles is completely dependent on the existence of a mass market continuing to pour money into their coffers. How will they pay their bills if there is no one buying their products? It strikes me that they have not considered the full implications of an automated world without human employees. If humans are not employed, humans will not have any money. If humans do not have any money, who will dine in the automated restaurants, ride in the self-driving cars, and shop online at automated retailers? If those of us who are not economic elites have no incentive to raise children then who will buy the products the elites are producing as they live forever? Without us, how will they themselves survive? Who will grow the food they need? Who will produce the electricity to power their automated homes? Who will maintain their vast gardens?
I do not like the world I see arriving as early as five years from now. I see no incentive for me to live in this elaborate technotopia the IT elites have planned for us. I see no future for myself. I see no future for my children.