There are so many ways the future might play out. Maybe we'll have flying cars, but maybe we won't. Maybe we'll live on Mars, but, heck, who knows.
But one thing is pretty clearly going to happen: we're gonna be banging robots.
There are lots of people who, even now, are working to make this happen. And it's not hard to picture how that might go, you know, in a physical sense. But we actually have pretty much no idea how that would affect our psyches.
To try to understand what the effects might be before having sex with robots becomes widespread, a pair of British researchers decided to hunt down every study they could find on the subject. They published their findings Monday in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.
A little context: at least four companies in the $30 billion sex technology industry already sell sex robots, which the researchers define as "realistic mannequins with variable ages, appearances, and textures, and customizable oral, vaginal, and anal openings." That's a far cry from the walking, talking hosts that inhabit the brothels of "Westworld," but customers will still spend upwards of $17,000 on the most realistic-looking of today's models.
Several companies are already working on more advanced bots — one boasts AI software that enables its sexbot to "hold long-term persistent conversations" with humans — and people seem pretty open to giving them a shot. One survey of 263 heterosexual men found that 40 percent could see buying a sexbot for themselves in the next five years. A larger survey of 2,000 men and women in the U.S. found that 49 percent of men would be open to a romp with an "enhanced, hyper-realistic" doll.
So, realistic sex robots are on the way, and people are at least curious to try them out. Now, how might that affect our health?
According to the researchers, we have no idea — their hunt turned up exactly zero scientifically sound studies on the topic.
That hasn't stopped sex bot proponents from making "rather specious" claims about the health benefits the devices might bring. Some of those include: the robots can promote safer sex, help with sexual dysfunction, alleviate feelings of loneliness, and meet people's intimacy needs. The researchers found no existing studies to support those ideas.
But what about claims that sex robots will be unhealthy for us? People who fear that sex robots assert that they will increase violence against women, make people less apt to seek human intimacy, or negatively impact "real" romantic relationships. The study found no evidence to back up those claims, either.
The lack of research into these claims isn't all that surprising, Julie Carpenter, an expert on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) from California Polytechnic State University, told The Washington Post. That's simply because sex robots haven't been available for purchase for very long.
Now that the devices are on the market, though, the study authors urge their fellow researchers to look into the robots' potential health implications. Based on how eager some people were in some of those surveys, it may not be so hard for them to find participants for their experiments.