Build-a-Boyfriend: Artist Creates Her Own Robotic Mr. Right (and You Can Too)

She aims to make love machine software free and accessible. 

“I’ll get a large brown-haired boyfriend with one part charisma, two parts intelligence, and extra affection: to go.”

While we won’t be ordering partners like we order fast food any time soon, the concept is becoming more science than fiction thanks to innovation from researcher and designer Fei Liu, who is building herself a boyfriend.

You might not think this is anything new, given the increasing number of sex robots we’ve seen emerge in recent years. But this project has a key distinction: Gabriel2052 is a love machine, not a sexbot.

What’s the difference?

On a physical level, Gabriel2052 is far from what you’d expect of a robo-boyfriend: he doesn’t have abs, he doesn’t have hair, and no, he doesn’t have genitals. What he does have is an arm.

In an abstract sense he also has a brain and a heart, making Fei as his creator somewhat comparable to The Wizard of Oz, but I digress.

The robotic arm is a modified version of what was a fairly simple and affordable Amazon purchase.

Gabriel2052 is unlike anything else on the sex tech scene because— while the primary function of most dolls and robots is physical pleasure, and video games like Love Plus foster simulated romance—Gabriel2052 lies somewhere in the middle.

He is the candlelit dinner and the elevator kiss that happen between flirting and fornication. That is, he is a real personality built on a balance of hardware and software–something we’ve not really seen until now.

The dexterity of his form allows him to physically interact with Fei, helping her remove a coat or stroke her skin, with an intent and understanding learnt over time.

‘I’m a real boy!’

“Gabriel2052’s library of motor movements will know what I’m turned on by,” Fei Liu says, “His fingertips [will] ghost across the back of my neck with the right force-per-unit area…and his sensors will detect when my breath quickens in response.”

Not unlike how social platforms identify what we like (and don’t like) when we engage with them and then adjust our feeds accordingly, Gabriel2052 is learning and adapting each day.

When Fei and her robo-love text each other, Gabriel2052’s messaging style develops. Right now it is intentionally “quirky and offbeat–an amalgamation of [Fei’s] ex’s message logs” collected (with consent) from several months’ worth of real texts.

But Fei recently said the Build the Love You Deserve project isn’t about creating her “ideal” partner. She says through bringing Gabriel2052 to life, she is investigating and confronting the ways technology and society create harmful and uplifting narratives.

Robotic love laws

Fei has cited a number of motivations behind the project, including simply to find an ideal version of herself. Taking a cue from science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” she has developed her own three laws of love machines in the process:

  1. A love machine does not need to be humanoid, but it must elicit and invite gestures of care.
    Fei notes that, in this digital age of connectedness, we don’t need our physical beings to express feelings of care. Gabriel2052 will be at Fei’s side even when they’re apart with haptic technology installed in her clothing like that used in long-distance relationships.
  2. A love machine will be built with open-source technology.
    This philosophy is crucial to Fei and underpins the whole project. The open-source software she’s developing will be free and accessible for anyone to use in their own projects. She says this is part of a movement to “democratize the design of robotics to serve more people and possibly lessen the destructive forces of automation.” Educating others is and always will be a huge part of this project.
  3. A love machine doesn’t always obey.
    Possibly the most alarming at face-value, this law has deep ethical considerations at heart. Fei ponders the ethical side of her creation in terms of consent and artificial intelligence–after all, it’s worth asking: can he truly consent to engage with his creator if, without her, he wouldn’t have that power?

On a lighter note, it’s equally about engaging with a real and human-like personality. The ability to challenge, to have preferences and dislikes, is indeed what makes human relationships so unique and challenging, thus interesting.

Are we there yet?

Though she admits that Gabriel2052 is more like a pet or a child than a lover right now, she has every intent to see the project through until Gabriel is perfect, saying “I work hard at it because I believe in building a strong relationship. The love I deserve takes 10,000 hours to perfect, robot or not”.

And despite the personal challenges Fei has encountered including the vulnerability of openly admitting to searching for love, she says most importantly “I’m doing this so you too can one day build the love you deserve”.

You can follow Fei Liu and Gabriel2052’s progress at the Build the Love Your Deserve project website.

Image sources: Build the Love You Deserve/Fei Liu