What happens when we eroticize virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana?
As technology becomes increasingly “user-friendly,” a few people have begun to see some tech as less of a thing—and even as a replacement for human interaction.
For example, The Sunday Express recently posted an article about how some men have been using the new virtual assistant from Robin Labs to try to, as they say, “fulfill some of their deepest desires.”
“Talk dirty to me, Robin”
Similar to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, Robin is billed as “your personal eyes-free assistant on the road.” Users give spoken commands to request various information, including details about local businesses and the most efficient route to a particular destination.
While Robin can do all kinds of things, it’s not set up to handle someone trying to engage with it sexually—but that hasn’t stopped some of its male users from trying.
The chief executive of Robin Labs, Ilya Eckstein, explained to The Times his view on the why some men are trying to connect sexually with software: “This happens because people are lonely and bored…. It is a symptom of our society.”
Will fiction become fact?
The Sunday Express points out the similarity between men “flirting” with Robin and the 2013 film Her by Spike Jonze—where a lonely fellow (played by Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his personal digital assistant, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
While not directly referencing the film, its theme of men trying to connect with software as a surrogate for human sexual activity is clearly on Eckstein’s mind: “As well as the people who want to talk dirty, there are men who want a deeper sort of relationship or companionship.”
At present, Eckstein says that only a small number of men—just 5%—have been trying to have sexy chats with Robin. But even this small number has caused quite a bit of discussion.
Over at The Telegraph, Rachel Hosie speculates that these men might be using personal digital assistants as a kind of proxy for treating women as objects, or sexual slaves—extrapolating on Eckstein’s statement: “People want to flirt, they want to dream about a subservient girlfriend, or even a sexual slave. It may just be more for laughs, or something deeper underneath the surface.”
Hello, Siri; hello, Cortana
Meanwhile, many developers have been mute on whether their own personal digital assistants receive flirtatious or sexually-charged remarks.
However, as we’ve previously reported, since the launch of Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana in 2014, many users have asked the AI sex-related questions, in particular, one’s about the software’s sex life.
Microsoft’s AI advocate Deborah Harrison also said that the company was trying to pour some cold water onto the situation. “That’s not the kind of interaction we want to encourage, she told Techaeris earlier this year. In fact, if you ask Cortana about her sex life, she’s programed to sting you with a harsh rebuke.
Encouraged or not, some men are pretty persistent in their pursuit of software sexuality. Eckstein says, “Some users are amazingly stubborn in that sense. They walk from one assistant to another trying to find one that will understand them best and can have a conversation with them.”
Your very personal assistant
One thing is for certain, whether by design or not, there is a percentage of men who want virtual assistants to meet their sexual needs. Famed roboticist David Levy is even developing erotic chatbots intended for flirting and sexy conversations to quench the demand.
What’s going to be interesting is watching how developers of everyday virtual assistants like Siri and Robin will program their AIs to respond to sexual come-ons and—as they get even more responsive and sophisticated—how the software itself will talk back.
Maybe, in perhaps a few short years, we’ll find this evolving along similar lines to the movie Her: where the men won’t just be talking at assistants like Robin, but really engaging with them—sexually as well as personally.
Image source: Robin