In Brief
A Chinese engineer facing the realities of a widening gender gap in China, and the pressure to marry found a creative and controversial solution: he built himself a robot bride.

Yingying

While Tindr and other apps might be the height of how technology is shaping human relationships, an engineer in China has taken it to the next level: Zheng Jiajia has “married” a robot he created.

Zheng, an artificial intelligence expert, spent two months “dating” Yingying, who he built late last year. He made their relationship “official” in a simple ceremony with his mother and friends in attendance. Or at least — as official as the government would allow. Local authorities do not actually recognize the union, through the ceremony did follow Chinese tradition. 

The Quest For Lifelike Robots
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Zheng’s decision to wed the robot was spurred by mounting pressure for the 31-year-old to marry. Due to China’s one-child policy,sex-selective abortions are common (and preferential to male offspring). China, therefore, has one worst gender gaps in the world. There are 113.5 men for every 100 women in the country, according to the World Economic Forum. That fact, combined with views on matrimony among China’s middle class, is making it difficult for men to find wives.

As for Zheng and Yingying, the first hurdle in their relationship may be not dissimilar from human relationships: communication. Yingying is capable of reading some Chinese characters and images and can even speak a few words. Zheng is already working on an update which would hopefully allow her to walk (as of now she must be carried everywhere), do household chores, and converse at a higher level.

The Future of Relationships

Reactions around the world to this unprecedented union have, of course, been mixed — but its a very clear demonstration of how relationships and intimacy are evolving in the context of advancing technology.

Futurism explored this concept in previous report:

Technology is pushing human sexuality into uncharted terrain. It’s transforming how we express love and intimacy, and holds tremendous potential for deeper emotional and physical connections. While everyone stands to benefit, this is perhaps especially true for those who face sexual challenges due to distance, loneliness, discrimination, or disability.

For many people faced with physical, emotional, and geographic challenges that impact their relationships, turning to technology for emotional and sexual fulfillment may be their only option. And there are a number of options in that vein, many of which involve the use of remote sex tech, such as long-distance kissing devices, VR haptic body suits, or connected pillows for couples who are in two different geographic locations. Other avenues include adult virtual worlds where users create avatars and join in virtual gatherings. Similar to Zheng’s idea, there are also those creating robotic prototypes equipped with the illusion of sentience and human augmentation which provide companionship for human users.

If anything, these emerging technologies are able to provide context for the integral role that relationships play in human interaction. How these innovations will one day shape human connection and intimacy, however, is very much still evolving.