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Amalia Negreponti Headshot

A.I. Sex: It's Complicated, Too (NSFW)

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The runaway success of Spike Jonze's new movie Her owes much to its already over-analyzed single sex scene -- virtual, of course. The subsequent effusion of articles about interactive sex experiences concentrates on the technical stuff that can assist in creating "the closest thing to the real thing" -- while forgoing all the drama, uncertainty and messiness in having to deal with an actual sex partner: How to find him/her? How to try for the serendipitous occurrence of mutual desires and appetites? What to do afterwards?

The hi-tech gizmos already in play are multiple and diverse, and all grounded in the basic assumption that any encounter that seeks to be intimate has to be both visual (hence the necessary interplay with a webcam) and sensory (hence the electronically operated machinal devices).
Some rely on a traditional foundation, like 3D-printed sex toys and the Limon (Minna Life). Basically a vibrator, it ostensibly can also serve as a couple's sexual memory-bank, recording and customizing intensity levels.

Something equally reliant on the here and now, using technology in an auxiliary way, is a new unisex product Durex, the condom colossus, has in the works. Fundawear, "touch over the internet" as aptly defined by the company, consists of, according to a YouTube video, a pair of underpants -- available in male and female versions -- with built-in vibrating nodes remotely activated and operated by an iPhone.

The app's menu is quite evolved, involving a multitude of on-screen "buttons" that each operate different nodes, allowing for a more customized -- should we say "personal"? -- experience mirroring what the couple would do in a "real" intimate set-up.

Then there are the gizmos heavily reliant on technology allowing not just for the recording and digital transmission of sexual sensations, but also -- to a degree -- for their simulation.

One of these is RealTouch, a product line of USB-connected sex devices (one device curated for straight men, another for gay men), promising actual "interactive sex" over the Internet. The customer can choose from over 1000 specially encoded videos that sync with the movements of real touch, while for those who apparently desire to forego the slog of acquiring and/or maintaining a significant other, the company also delivers access to a slew of "models" well-versed in the use of RealTouch's devices, who are available "for private, one-on-one fantasy encounters."

All this for a price, of course, unlike a failed sexual encounter involving a real-life volunteer surrogate in Her.

Yet, this newly garnered ballyhoo about hi-tech gizmos offering interactive sexual experiences, most of which have already been around for several years now, entirely ignores the fact that even in Her's image of a dystopian future not far from us, the single -- and ostensibly mind-blowing and physically orgasmic -- sex scene relies on no remotely operated nodes, special underwear, or USB devices, no significant other, surrogate, or model on the other side of the Internet. It consists of the act of verbal foreplay between two entities (how else to speak about the coupling of a human being and an artificially intelligent operating system the human has downloaded onto his phone, computer and other devices?) only after the two have become familiar, shared intimately mundane details about their likes and dislikes, become a staple of each other's daily lives, and therefore forged a strong intellectual and emotional bond.

To put it plainly: it's about two... beings who have opened up to one another, gotten to know each other, fallen in love, and require nothing more than each other's voice and the all-pervasive knowledge of the intensity of their bond, to reach mutual physical climax -- giving a whole new meaning to the term "mind-f*ck".

After that happens, of course, things start getting messy. In the movie, as in real life, truly mind-blowing sex entails a profound and unique, if also febrile, connection to a specific other on every level. Enter drama and potential heartbreak. Even if your lover is a creature of A.I. (and this option seems not too faraway; aside from Japanese DARPA robots and Google's much publicized forage into robotics Rumors abound that Google has made ground-breaking progress in creating software that understands and responds accordingly to the diverse employment of inflection, both written and spoken.

Practically meaning, this software (still in its experimental phase) understands when we're joking or being mysterious or just sad -- at the same time, this lack of emotional understanding remains a timeless bone of contention between many couples.

Truth is, we're all products of a higher intelligence after all -- some call it God, others call it "evolution". When we break out, evolving beyond our "programming", risking, feeling, discovering, truly connecting to another, then it all becomes complicated and unknown. That's the goriness and glory of love, I guess.

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