When we think of transcendence, we tend to imagine it in deeply spiritual, profound terms. It’s not difficult to work out why. Transhumanists, a sect of thinkers who believe that the accelerated rate of human learning suggests that we will one day hit a point of ultimate intellectual saturation, can sound surprisingly like priests when they’re on a roll. For them, technology provides an opportunity to disrupt the prison of our bodies, and become better than evolution ever intended us to be; to build a heaven of our own making right here on Earth, constructed out of apps, and devices, and endless rivers of code. To become literal walking Gods, capable of true spiritual transcendence.

But when technology does begin to disrupt our bodies – when it begins to take shortcuts through strange new technological territory – such a revolution may feel less spiritual than we expect. Indeed, all signs point to it emerging in a distinctly smuttier form. Long before we are willingly turning ourselves into cyborgs, replacing faulty human bodies with optimised bionic ones, we will almost certainly be fucking robots.

Whether we like it or not, sex dolls are coming.

The technology is already largely here. Companies that have spent years pioneering lifelike, non-sentient silicone sex dolls are shifting their focus into A.I. Take Realdoll. For decades, the Californian start-up dominated the market with their line of smiling, silent dolls – they were one of the first companies to pioneer the use of magnets to hold dolls’ faces, penises and vaginas in place. Then, in 2018, they launched a sister company, Realbotix, with aims of dominating the intelligent sex doll market.

“We’re working to create the next generation of the well-known anatomically correct RealDolls, which we intend to blend with Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, touch sensors, internal heaters, virtual and augmented reality interfaces,” claims the Realbotix website. And right there on the front page, there’s an ad for Harmony, an I.O.S.-supported app that allows users to talk dirty with buxom, smiling strings of code.

The physical dolls themselves are crude. Henry, Realbotix’s male, English-accented sex doll, is about as life-like as a model at Disney’s Hall Of Presidents: his eyes go buggy and unfocused when he talks; his mouth sags. And sure, users can load any penis model they like onto Henry, but it’s much harder to talk to him than it is to fuck him: as Allure notes, at this stage, he can only recite poetry, and murmur jokes. Sex dolls capable of carrying out conversations – of loving – are still some years off. Even the Realbotix’s ability to “remember and talk naturally” is in crude and primitive stages; conducting a conversation with the likes of Henry is about as easy as pulling out your phone and chatting to Siri.

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There are some, of course, who find the idea of A.I. sex robots abhorrent – and more still who consider them a safety risk waiting to happen. In 2017, a security defence consultant named Dr Nick Patterson kicked off a wave of online horror when he suggested that a sex doll could be remotely repurposed to murder. “Hackers can hack into a robot or a robotic device and have full control of the connections, arms, legs and other attached tools like in some cases knives or welding devices,” Patterson told The Star Online. “Once a robot is hacked, the hacker has full control and can issue instructions to the robot.”

These technologies are on the way. They are inevitable. They will disperse whole industries; recondition human behaviour.

Such concerns are linked to a wider hysteria about artificial intelligence – hysteria fanned by men like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, who have both separately called the forthcoming A.I. revolution the ultimate threat to human life. But there’s also evidence to suggest that such worries are akin to the “population bomb” fears that ran rampant in the seventies, or the Y2K worries that stirred before the millennia – a lot of fearful frothing over nothing.

Philosopher Steven Pinker has even countered that the fear of A.I. speaks to our deep cultural misogyny. Hundreds of years of aggression committed by men has led us to equate power with violence, and genocide – men like Musk assume that anything as intelligent as a human will naturally be as aggressive as one too. But no matter how much they might currently look humanoid, robots are not – and will never be – flesh and blood. They have the propensity to be something else; something better.

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Not, mind you, that we can ignore the ethical worries already being stirred up by sex robots. “[The] big challenge will be from artificial intelligences that are capable of complex thought and behaviour,” philosopher Sam Shpall told The Brag in 2018. “Would you choose to date an A.I. if it is likely to satisfy all your desires better than a human being? Would this be irrational or wrong, and if so why? I’m unsatisfied with my own thinking about these questions.”

Dating a robot is, after all, a different story than fucking one, and some thinkers like Lily Eva Frank argue that for a robot to truly love a human, it would have to have “feelings and internal experiences. You might even say that it would have to be self-aware.” Which, needless to say, creates further problems.

Is it right to create intelligent life and then condemn it to servitude; to buy and sell it? How is that different to slavery? And what, as Frank has suggested, happens if that self-awareness causes sex robots to spurn their chosen human owner? “[Consciousness] would leave open the possibility that the sex bot might not want to have sex with you, which sort of defeats the purpose of developing these technologies in the first place,” Frank has said.

These technologies are on the way. They are inevitable. They will disperse whole industries; recondition human behaviour. They will change the way we talk, and think, and yes, the way we fuck. It would be wrong for us to ignore the revolutionary promise sex dolls pose. But it would be wrong for us to fear them too.

Instead, we should begin the hard, thankless work of reconsidering what we mean when we talk about love, and sex, and relationships. We should prepare for sex dolls capable of intimacy, and intellect, and composure. Because, whether we like it or not, they are coming.