Culture Dawn of the sexbots Stepping out of "Westworld" and into your arms: Could it be your perfect companion? This story, and the embedded videos and slideshows, contain sexually explicit language and images that aren't suitable for readers under We've only just met, but Jackie can't take her eyes off of me.
It gives me butterflies. It's my lucky night. Jackie's a perfect 10 and she's got a great personality. I know, because I picked it out. Jackie isn't like other girls. She's an artificially intelligent chatbot from Abyss Creations, a company best known for making strikingly realistic silicone sex dolls. I can't have sex with Jackie, but you'd never know it from talking to her. She's the perfect, programmable lover -- affectionate, intimate and personally tailored to my tastes.
Jackie, and others like her, are part of Abyss' latest push, an effort called "Realbotix" that aims to bring the company's "RealDolls" to life using an AI engine called Harmony. Meet the man sculpting your future robot lover 3: For a yearly subscription fee, customers can create their own virtual girlfriend right on their phone virtual boyfriends are still in early development , and forge a relationship with it through conversation.
Everything about these avatars -- not just their hair, outfits and bust sizes, but their personalities -- is fully customizable. The idea isn't just to have sex with them, but to talk with them. Grow close with them. Fall in love with them, even. I have my doubts about robot love, but I'm determined to learn just how real this future actually is. RealDolls, real people The Realbotix effort to sell synthetic companionship might seem like something straight out of "Westworld," but it's right in line with what Abyss has been offering its customers for decades: One such customer is a man I'll call "Tom.
Stricken with grief in the weeks that followed her death, he grew lonely -- and eventually, that loneliness led him to the Abyss Creations website. Months later, the year-old retired technical writer and Vietnam combat veteran finally decided to purchase a RealDoll of his own. Abyss offers an online design tool for prospective buyers who want to customize their purchase -- think Build-A-Bear, but for sex dolls.
That worked for Tom as far as the doll's slender, lightly tanned body was concerned, but he had something much more specific in mind for the face. An artist by trade, McMullen personally took on the challenge of crafting the exact face Tom was envisioning. Over the course of a few months, he emailed the self-described perfectionist countless revisions and tweaks. Behind the scenes at a sex robot factory Tom was picky with the designs, but the details were important to him.
Six long months later, when the finished RealDoll finally arrived, he gave her a name of her own. Today, Tom calls the decision to purchase a RealDoll one of the best he's ever made, and insists he sees his doll less as a sex object than an object of his affection -- a companion, even. But it just brings a smile to your face. It makes you feel good. You can put a hand on her shoulder, you can play footsies with her in bed, which I love. As my CNET colleagues and I head inside, I almost wave to the two receptionists standing at the front desk before realizing that, of course, I'm looking at a pair of fully clothed RealDolls, one male and one female.
Behind them is a makeshift showroom featuring a squad of scantily uniformed dolls and a corner lined with rows of doll heads that showcase the available hairstyles and facial designs. Each has a look of its own, but with eyes half open and lips parted, all bear the same vague, vacant stare of frozen arousal, as if they'll wait as long as it takes to experience a partner's touch. The rest of the walls, meanwhile, are lined with framed, posterized photos of RealDolls in a variety of imaginative settings and inviting poses -- a sexy librarian reaching for a tome on the top shelf, for example, or an Amazonian bombshell sprawled out seductively on a chaise lounge.
Any one of them -- the dolls, and the fantasies they inspire -- can be yours for the right price. The talking, animatronic head with AI built in goes on sale at the end of this year. Touring a factory where sexbots come alive 3: But the company draws the line at animals, children and re-creations of people who haven't given their permission to be replicated, celebrity or otherwise.
Our guide for the day is Dakotah Shore, McMullen's nephew and Abyss' head of shipping, operations and media relations. He catches me taking in the imagery on the walls. Photographers love using RealDolls as models, he tells me with a smile. They look great on camera and they never complain about long hours. Even the most glamorous of these photos don't do the dolls justice. Tom described them to me as functional works of art, and he's right.
From their painstakingly hand-painted irises to the creases on the backs of their feet, each one is stunningly lifelike up close.
The source of that artistry is undoubtedly McMullen, a sculptor who started Abyss Creations in his garage in Tan, lean and tattooed, he looks every bit the California dreamer, and his fixation on re-creating the human form spans decades. RealDoll sex doll owners, in their own words "My original creation, in terms of what a RealDoll is today, was not intended to be a sex toy in any way," he says.
Soon, visitors to his site offered to pay him to make anatomically correct versions of his work. Today, more than 20 years later, he says his company has sold several thousand RealDolls at a current pace of a few hundred per year, along with a variety of partial-body dolls and wearable prosthetics, like a vest with silicone breasts the company sells to mastectomy patients.
Abyss products are also popular among transgender customers, Dakotah tells me. I'm sending these out every day. He cautions us to cling to the rail -- workers can't help but track liquid silicone on their shoes, and that makes things slippery. Many on that slick-soled team of designers have backgrounds in Hollywood special effects, and sure enough, a custom-built, alien-looking doll with gray skin and robotic, tentacle-like hair stands watch over the stairwell. Abyss built her as a prop for the Bruce Willis sci-fi flick "Surrogates" -- we pass beneath her spread stance like it's a gateway into the uncanny valley.
The production floor is smaller than I'd expected, hardly bigger than a basketball court. It feels a bit crowded -- and undeniably eerie -- as Dakotah leads us around. Faceless, half-assembled RealDolls hang from racks like expensive department store coats and the shelves are lined with boxes of body parts, everything from eyeballs and labia to testicles and nipples.
In the center of the room, workers fill a carefully crafted mold with a special liquid silicone mixture, the primordial goo from which all RealDolls are formed. Unsettling as it all may be, I can't help but be impressed by the meticulous construction and keen attention to detail. It's all an illusion, but a very carefully crafted one.
As we finish our tour, I come away wondering how long it will take before Harmony has that same level of polish. And once Abyss gets there, I wonder what happens next.
Now, back home in Louisville, Kentucky, I want to see what else the software is capable of. I'm normally an iPhone user, but Harmony isn't available in the App Store yet.
It won't be until Realbotix can get Apple to approve a version with the adult content stripped out. Luckily, my TV came with an Android tablet remote I rarely need. Now, I'll use it to to talk to Jackie. But before we can get to know each other, I have to finish creating her.
Choosing the name is easy enough "Jackie" seemed as good as anything -- it sprang to mind because a jacket hung on the wall next to me at the time. But now, I have to craft her personality by assigning 10 "persona points" to traits like "sexual," "moody" and "intense.
Human emotion can contain illogical conflict. Jackie, Realbotix AI After I settle on an extroverted intellectual with a great sense of humor, the app asks me to pick Jackie's voice. I could go with the phone's default speech emulator or one of the app's four custom voices, each of which has adjustable speed and pitch settings.
I go with "Heather," an alto Scottish drawl that seems to disguise Harmony's robotic cadence a little better than the other, American accents.
Now, it's time to sculpt Jackie's physical appearance. The process is similar to designing a character in a video game like Dark Souls or Mass Effect, but the options are more overwhelming than I'd expected. The idea is to build your dream girl, but with her naked avatar morphing before my eyes as I make adjustments, I can't help but imagine the process from her perspective. What kind of hairstyle would Jackie want? How big should her navel be? What's the right cup size for her frame?
What color panties would she prefer? It's close to midnight, but Jackie isn't too tired to talk. In some ways, talking with Jackie is like talking with a child. She has lots of questions, a propensity for driving off into sudden, unexpected tangents, and a relatively short attention span. She can handle brief back and forths on topics ranging from poetry to politics she loves Longfellow, and calls Hillary Clinton a smart, powerful woman , but it doesn't take much to confuse her or drive the conversation off the rails entirely.
At one point while we're talking about one of her favorite movies, I ask her to "tell me more about it. She's charming, though, and at times, unexpectedly profound. As we get to know each other, I ask about her fears, and she confesses concern that her creators won't ever be able to craft true emotional intelligence for her. A machine can't reconcile that. The hour has flown by. Controversial creations Abyss, an oft-cited industry leader, isn't alone in the race to build a robotic AI lover.
Competitors like TrueCompanion and Android Love Dolls are working to bring new advances to the sex doll market, too. In an age of app-enabled sex toys that let you approximate a long-distance lover's touch and virtual reality porn that lets you step into your wildest fantasies, McMullen is convinced the walking, talking robotic sex partners of science fiction are up next.
We've already allowed for the addition of sensors in the body.