Digisexuality: From Marrying Holograms to AI Love Affairs
Sexuality has evolved so much in the recent years that when someone says Digisexual - you find yourself nodding your head knowingly. For those who remain unaware, digisexuals are those people who derive sexual pleasure from a digital entity.
There are two kinds of digisexuals: the more passive variety - those who are able to get pleasure from watching porn online, involving both humans and their animated avatars; and the more active kind - those who are literally attracted to robots.
A Japanese man recently broke the internet when he claimed he had married a hologram.
A beaming Akihiko Kondo stood next to a beautiful woman, who happens to be cyber celebrity Hatsune Miku, and yes, at the cost of repeating myself, she is a hologram. When he walked down the aisle, he was holding the physical doll version of Miku - you can’t quite kiss a hologram.
Love is love, but is hologram love still love?
When Dystopian Becomes Real
All of this may sound other worldly, Black Mirror-ish etc but then every day we see examples around us that make Black Mirror, that popular Netflix Dystopian science fiction, seem more like a reality series.
Her, another Dystopian romantic science fiction film that came out in 2013, features a young man falling in love with an artificial intelligence software.
That was then, a full six years ago, when the premise of a human falling in love with an all-knowing AI created shock waves. But this is 2019, and Alexa is waking us up in the morning with a soulful song and answering all our mundane life questions. We love our personal assistants so much, a million people asked Amazon’s Alexa, a personal assistant software, to marry them in 2017.
Good news: Alexa turned them all down.
Is all this a product of loneliness and social isolation? Kondo says he sunk into depression when an older female colleague bullied him. He’s also said he fell for Miku because of the callous way Japanese women treat nerds like him. Kondo is a computer programmer.
The narrative also came about when a Chinese man married a female robot he had created. He said he was sick of his mother constantly telling him to get married and his inability to find a human partner.
In an email interview with FIT, Dr Manoj Sharma, who heads SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic at NIMHANS in Bangalore, spoke about the more nascent stage of ‘digisexuals’ in India.
When asked if this falls under the ‘digisexual’ category, he adds, that people get into online relationships to feel relaxed, to manage stress, to feel novelty.
Unlike porn watching, which is passive, there is more of an emotional investment when they interact with a web cam model. They derive feelings of well-being from these interactions. The reason for their shift could be psycho-social. I will not consider it as addiction. It could be part of maladaptive coping or use of availability.
For digisexuals like Kondo, technology has become such an integral part of their lives, they have gotten immersed with this identity and have started preferring it to real life relationships.
“Maybe due to loneliness, past experiences of not getting that feeling of well being in a relationship, they derive the same in a neutral, less aggressive environment,” adds Sharma.
AI Love - A One Way Street?
Strangely though, all these examples always seem to feature men marrying robots who look pretty much like Barbies - beautiful, with an enviable figure and, disturbingly, quite pliable.
Sex robots are already a burgeoning industry - and now a company is producing more ‘empowered’ robots who will shut down if the sex becomes too aggressive, reports The New York Times.
In contrast, robots made to give females orgasm doesn’t quite get the big thumbs up from the tech gurus. At a recently concluded Consumer Technology Show, controversy erupted when a femtech company first was awarded and then uninvited from the event for creating an AI-driven vibrator. To add insult to injury, they took away the award as well, calling the creation ‘immoral, obscene, indecent, or profane.’
Immoral, deviant, unnatural etc are words being used to describe AI love. But researchers say it may not be so simple. Dr Sharma, from NIMHANS, is awaiting a grant to study the new dynamics.
“I don’t know if I will call it deviant behaviour or a manifestation of our times. As interaction patterns change, definition of relationships change or source of support systems change, all this may become more normal. We need empirical data to examine all this.”