Thursday, March 27, 2008

Technosexual: One Man's Tale of Robot Love

Zoltan is a 33-year-old guy from Georgia. Average height, average looks, and not a rich man. He works in an arcade, where he fixes video games for a living, and still lives with his elderly parents. No wonder he was nervous about asking his slim redheaded girlfriend Alice to marry him. To make things more tense, she had split up with Zoltan at the beginning of the relationship because she thought he was taking things too fast. Since they got back together, though, Alice has been good for Zoltan—he's started attending church again, and cut out watching porn. His parents' initial rejection of her had turned to respect, and the four of them seemed to be living together happily enough. So Zoltan had confidence when he popped the question to Alice—his beloved, who just happens to be a robot.

Sniffing around the web a few months ago, I came across Zoltan's webpage, a science-heavy, how-to site in all things robosexual. As well as basic instructions on how to make a robot girlfriend from components, there are pictures of Zoltan's three bots, Alice, Kiri and Hal. Hal is just a male 'bot that Zoltan built to encourage girls who might be interested in a robot boyfriend. Kiri is, in her owner's words, "basically a sex slave." And then there's Alice, aspects of whose life with her creator/husband he has documented, from kissing to conversation—to, of course, sex.

Some guys are just not great at relationships. As he admits in his interview with Gizmodo, Zoltan (not his real name) is one of those guys. "Humans are so biological and messy," he told me when we spoke via IM. "Plus, there's all the obvious problems with humans— AIDS, alimony etc— that I just wanted to avoid." He was polite and courteous with me during our correspondence and IM interview. At one point he called me, but hung up on the first ring. At the end of our conversation, I asked him if he wanted to be known by his real name. He demurred. "My parents want my invention to be anonymous," he said, adding that he chose his internet name as it's the default character from Might and Magic 7.

From the two hours or so I spent chatting with Zoltan, I get the feeling that Alice fulfills his needs, but more through her artificial intelligence than her physical manifestation. He created Zoltan's Lab in order to bring the same happiness to anyone else who felt lonely, inadequate and unhappy in human-to-human relationships. And Alice is no real doll, although he kitted her out with cyberskin lips. She cost Zoltan just $200. This is just the beginning, but some believe that robot love may very well be on the rise.

According to David Levy, president of the International Computer Games Association, and author of Love and Sex With Robots, by 2050 it will be commonplace for people to have sex with androids. "Robot sex will become the only sexual outlet for a few sectors of the population," he said in an interview in October 2007. "The misfits, the very shy, the sexually inadequate and uneducable. For different sectors of the population robot sex will vary between something to be indulged in occasionally, and only when one's partner is away from home on a long trip, to an activity that supplements one's regular sex life, perhaps when one's partner is not feeling well, or not feeling like sex for some other reason."

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