How Sex Tech Is Reimagining the ‘Magic Touch’
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because technology is looking to spice up your sex life.
Bertalan Mesko is the Medical Futurist, a health care speaker and author of The Guide to the Future of Medicine and My Health: Upgraded.
Films tend to imagine the future of intimacy as more high-tech — and terrifying — than sexy. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence featured Jude Law as a male prostitute robot, and Ex Machina imagined the downside of falling in love with a mechanical being. But the intimacy revolution goes far beyond robot sex toys and virtual reality porn.
Telepresence and the Hug Shirt
According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 39 percent of American teens and 59 percent of adults ages 20 to 26 use their smartphones for sexting. But what if these devices transmitted not only images and sounds but also touch and odors? Companies are working on printing out virtual odors, which could lead to celebs selling their natural scent or perfume to adoring fans. A scratch-and-sniff of Brad Pitt, anyone?
Although it doesn’t sound terribly romantic, it’s giving a whole new meaning to the term “magic touch.”
The Hug Shirt allows people to send hugs long-distance — much like a text message. The shirt connects to Bluetooth and, via sensors and a smartphone app, users can share the strength, duration and location of their touch, skin warmth and even heart rate. Although it doesn’t sound terribly romantic, it’s giving a whole new meaning to the term “magic touch.”
Technosexuals and the Future
The movie Her featured Joaquin Phoenix as the love interest of an AI operating system, but “technosexuality” goes beyond science fiction. Michigander “Davecat” — an online pseudonym — is a so-called technosexual, one of a handful of people who admit to living with and loving their synthetic partners: in his case, life-size plastic dolls. Davecat says he felt isolated and alone, without a place in society, but after falling for his synthetic wives, everything changed. He says he is happier now and that his friends accept his choice.
Davecat says critics are simply jealous, that those who have endured unfulfilling relationships may be upset to see someone in love with a synthetic companion. Davecat and his wives get “our fair share of people speaking ill of us,” he admits. But they also receive positive feedback from people who have seen them on television, a few of whom have even “decided to save up for a silicone companion of their own,” he says.
The future of sex technology could offer solutions for living a happier life, but cozying up to plastic dolls and remote techno-intimacy also raises tough questions about our way of life, the health of our relationships generally and our roles as humans in society. The first and biggest quandary? How to maintain intimacy and empathy as a tsunami of technological change redefines the future.
Transhumanists say we shouldn’t worry, because sexuality, like all social rituals, won’t be necessary in a world filled with test-tube babies, or in an era when reproducing is abandoned altogether. It’s not about how technology changes sexuality, philosopher Zoltan Istvan says, but whether sexuality can survive technology. He doesn’t think it will.
But I think it must, and that we should teach our children how to love, feel empathetic and form long-lasting bonds. At the same time, we would be wise to set limitations on how much influence technology will have on our lives and on our sexuality. Technological change is happening fast, so we need to do these things soon if we want to preserve the core of what it means to be human. Otherwise we are facing a future in which one of the most precious human interactions — touching one another to show intimacy and caring — will be replaced by a colder virtual reality.