The Language of the Future of Sex: the “Virtual Girlfriend”

A new “virtual girlfriend” augmented reality system has recently caused a bit of a stir in tech blogs.

And all this attention has spurred an excellent discussion about the potential problems with the language of the future of sex. The tech in question allows the user to project an image of Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku into their lives via a combination of video goggles and the ASUS Xtion Pro motion sensor. This video not only displays the capacity of this technology, but also some of the ways it becomes immediately problematic. Notice the way that the creator demonstrates the virtual avatar’s ability to respond to touch.

An article in Slate magazine points out the problem with the term “virtual girlfriend” – an increasingly popular technology, especially in Japan and Korea – when it is used to describe something which doesn’t have the capacity to actually respond, but merely react to stimuli in predictable, programmable patterns. The author ends by recommending an interesting solution:

Instead of calling Hatsune Miku an augmented reality “girlfriend,” let’s call her what she is: a toy. Men who download or buy her or whatever are not participating in relationships, which involve two people, but playing with toys, like Legos or Barbies. You can pummel a teddy bear, if you wish; you cannot bop a woman on the head. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the consumer’s inability to distinguish between love and ownership that makes Hatsune and her ilk so popular.

What do you think?

Are innovators in any way socially responsible for creating technologies that don’t further perpetuate the concept of partners as property?

And can the evolution of sexuality and technology use these controversial augmented realities to help us explore the deep roots of human relationships and better understand the very nature of love?

Image Source: Animaster on Flickr