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Touching a robot can be arousing, study says

Technically Incorrect: Researchers in California say we can be turned on by a robot. Is this the future of sex?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Do they do something for you?

Sarah Tew/CNET

We're becoming ever more intimate with our gadgetry.

We buy cases for our phones, so that the poor things never get hurt. We're constantly touching our iPads, because we know they'll get lonely without physical contact.

How, though, will we feel when we hug a robot?

You've likely thought about it. Perhaps at the end of a disastrous date, when your partner delivered a hug with all the deep feeling of a waste-disposal unit.

That, you might have thought, is what hugging a robot would feel like.

If you did think that, though, you might have been wrong.

As the Guardian reports, research out of Stanford University suggests that a good robot hug will do things for you.

In essence, these humanoid machines that you turn on might actually turn you on.

In experiments, when human subjects touched the buttocks or genital areas of a robot, the humans showed signs of arousal. The robot, by the way, was a mere two feet tall.

It's strange who took the dominant role in this work. It was the robot who encouraged the human to do the touching. While one of the human's hands performed the task, researchers monitored the other hand for reactions.

"Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well," lead researcher Jamy Li told the Guardian. "The research has implications for both robot design and the theory of artificial systems."

Li is an engineer. How odd, then, that he didn't refer to the most important implication, the one that applies to humans: We might not need other humans for sexual participation anymore.

This would be simultaneously disturbing and liberating. Might it mean we'd suddenly have relationships with people we actually like, rather than people with whom we'd like to be seen?

Might it mean that our sexual needs would be met by an inanimate being that's never prone to moods, headaches or twisted proclivities?

The whole issue of sex with robots elicits varying reactions. Some look forward to the day when robot-sex is de rigueur. There again, buyers of Softbank's Pepper robot reportedly had to promise not to have sex with it.

We're entering uncharted areas, a veritable dungeon of possibilities.

In a Futureworld where robots are all around, we will likely be different beings than we are today. And we'll likely get excited by very different things than we do today.

Or merely slightly different things.