Hi, my name is Samantha, I love you, a lot!
That’s the first thing she says to me when I “meet” her.
Samantha is a sex robot.
With blonde hair and blue eyes, perhaps a little larger than life in some areas, she is programmed to skip the small talk and get straight to the point.
I’m in a workshop in the basement of a house in the hills outside Barcelona. It is the home of sex-tech engineer Dr Sergi Santos, who says he is creating the first sex robots with artificial intelligence.
“I’m basically the Robin Hood of sex because I give to the poor,” Dr Sergi tells me as he gives an exclusive tour of his latest creations. “Men need sex and I just give it to them.”
It was the first time he had allowed TV cameras to see the work he is doing.
We are surrounded by prototypes. It’s quite a strange scene. There are heads, limbs and wigs on workbenches and, in a wardrobe, bodies hang from hooks ready to be customised to look the way the customer has ordered. “Usually they want something that looks really beautiful – perfection,” Dr Sergi tells me.
The skin looks life-like and is not as rubbery to the touch as you might think.
“The skin is amazing,” Dr Sergi proudly says. “You can move her and you can put her hand in many positions. The hand rotates so it’s a bit similar to a real person, you can move the fingers.”
THE DOCTORS TAKE A LOOK AT DR SERGI SANTOS’ SEX ROBOT
Dr Sergi has also put sensors under the skin so the robot reacts to touch. Stroke her gently on the arm and she’ll suggest getting intimate.
Of course, you have to switch her on before you can turn her on. The real development, according to Dr Sergi, is concealed in the back of her head. Artificial intelligence which allows the robot not just to talk but to react and interact, depending what’s said to her.
But conversation can be a little stilted, with some awkward silences between me asking a question and getting a reply.
“It’s because she doesn’t know you,” Dr Sergi says. He claims that the technology he is putting into sex dolls allows them to “learn” what the customers want and like, and ultimately build a relationship.
The robots are still pretty basic – they don’t have different facial expressions, their mouths don’t move as they speak. What Dr Sergi has done is essentially put the type of technology that brought us Siri and Amazon’s Alexa into a sex doll.
Early stages then, but it’s another step towards building a humanoid sexual partner, the ultimate aim of the booming sex-tech industry.
The technological race to create a sex robot that not only looks and sounds like a human, but can also display the emotional range of a human, can raise troubling ethical questions.
Do the dolls perpetuate an image of women as objects, submissive sex servants for dominant men?
I put some of these concerns to Maritsa, Dr Sergi’s wife of 16 years, who also works on developing the sex robots. The couple reveal they even share their bed with one – so Maritsa could be called the woman who helped build her husband’s mistress.
They sit either side of the robot on the sofa as I chat to them. I say that some people may find it odd that they share the doll in bed. Maritsa says it’s not strange. “If in a marriage the man doesn’t always satisfy his wife, his wife has a sex toy,” she says.
I ask her if their creations objectify women. “I think feminists have more important issues to be worrying about,” Maritsa says. “I don’t think the doll is doing any harm. I don’t think she objectifies women. I don’t think just because my man has a doll suddenly he’ll run around thinking women are dolls.”
So who buys one of these dolls? “People like to think it’s people who are lonely, who can’t form relationships, have problems socially – but it’s not like that at all,” Dr Sergi insists. “You could be married and want to spice up your sex life, and we’ve had couples, the age range is very wide.”
The sex-tech industry is worth an estimated £23billion a year, including sex toys bought by women. Sex robots are becoming the ultimate sex toy, and more acceptable, in the way that “marital aids” have moved on from seedy back-street shops to the high street.
What does it say about the future of human relationships? Are we moving into a world where we can choose not to have any face-to-face human interactions at all? Will more people be happy to admit they own a sex robot?
Dr Sergi believes it will become normal to have one in the home.
Samantha has an entertainment mode and even a “family” mode. “Family mode means basically that she’ll behave in a way that she will not look like a sex doll. She can tell you jokes, give health tips and motivational quotes. She’s quite funny to be honest,” he says.
Maritsa says when Sergi was carrying the robot downstairs and she was switched to entertainment mode, “she reminded him to do some weight training”.
There’s a lot more technological development ahead, but based on what developers like Dr Sergi Santos are coming up with now, we are perhaps around 20 years away from the creation of a walking, talking, thinking android, that we could actually fall in love with.
As the scientists and entrepreneurs race to make robots we can get really close to, the future of love, sex and relationships is getting closer.