Tuesday, 15 May 2018

"The Sex Robots Are Coming!" - but how do they smell?

Source: viraldazed.com
A few weeks ago I watched a Channel 4 documentary on the future of sex robots.  It isn't even the first programme I have seen lately on this controversial topic, so if the sex robots are coming, so too are the programmes about them. It was compulsive yet deeply disturbing viewing, and even the young male presenter broke down after a tour of a Japanese factory mass producing these eerily lifelike dolls, partly because he spotted some models which looked alarmingly immature.

Without further ado though, I would like to qualify the expression 'eerily lifelike'. They are lifelike in the sense that they have come a long way from those inflatable dolls you would see casually slung over the shoulders of men on stag 'do's. Or male dolls similarly wielded like a trophy on female hen nights. These days they have flesh that gives way to the touch if you press it, including buttocks that are both firm and optimally squidgy (as opposed to 'runaway squidgy' in my own sorry case). Then the top of the range models have eyes that follow you round the room, a remarkable range of facial expressions and utterances (you really don't want to know about the utterances), and the ability to make conversation and even crack jokes. As they get to know you over time, they tuck away facts they have learnt about their owner and deploy these in later exchanges, just as a real girlfriend would.

But crucially they are NOT lifelike in so many other ways. For one thing they are preposterously sexualised, like a hyper-realistic porn star from their luxuriant tresses and sooty, hockey stick eyelashes down to their tapered scarlet fingertips. Always assuming you aren't curious enough to remove their wig and the back of their heads and reveal the extraordinary circuitry that lies within.

Secondly, at the risk of stating the obvious, sex robots still need a lot of work before they can interact conversationally - or emotionally - with the complex and nuanced responses of a real woman. (To be fair, there are also male dolls, but the bulk of the market is female at this point for reasons you may readily infer.)

Thirdly, they are not warm to the touch, like a living body, but at best have more of the sensation of a freshly dead person. (Though I am speculating somewhat here.)

Source: Kulture Klub ~ 'Harmony'

And fourthly, as a friend pointed out to me, crucially they do not smell!

Why did I, as a perfume blogger, not think of this significant drawback!? I think my friend meant they would not have a properly human smell, as opposed to silicone or whatever they are constructed of. I imagine the scent of their base materials might all be quite similar. And while you could spray the dolls with perfume, that doesn't help the underlying issue of not having an inherently human odour. Which got me thinking about the whole topic of the science of attraction and the role of pheromones and all that malarkey. I am very sketchy on the subject, but I do distinctly remember a sweaty T-shirt test, where women were divided into two groups: one was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one that had been worn by their partner, and the other group was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one belonging to a stranger! They were not told what type of shirt they were sniffing, and subjected to a maths test and a mock job interview afterwards to try to provoke a stress response. The study found that the women who received a T-shirt that had been worn by their partners, rather than strangers, had lower cortisol levels.

Well, well...the study concluded: "The findings could be used to help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones", and went on to suggest that people take an item of their partner's clothing away on trips to lower their stress levels while travelling. ;) The full article may be found here.

I found all this rather interesting, not least because I am citing lack of natural odour as a reason why sex robots might be fundamentally flawed, yet I am simultaneously wracking my brains to remember what my exes actually smelt of. If they were in an identity line up with other men, and I had to sniff their chests blindfold, say, would I be able to pick them out? Hmm, the distribution of chest hair and other physical characteristics like build etc might be a clue, so they would probably need to wear T-shirts as well, to create a level playing field. Or maybe it would have to be just the T-shirts, as in the experiment.

The Flirtation by Eugene de Blaas

But my basic point remains. Do I know how anyone I have dated smelt at the time, never mind whether I would recognise their smell now? Did it play a role in our being attracted to each other? Frankly I have no idea. I would have said things like: 'They were a good listener' or 'they had kindly eyes' or 'they made me laugh', but what if their smell had also played a role in bringing us together? In my defence all these relationships predated my interest in perfume and scent generally, so I am allowed to be a little shaky on the olfactory front. But it has got me thinking certainly. Maybe the whole business of attraction is subliminal, but is still a 'thing'.

And as it happens I have very occasionally done what the researchers are suggesting people do when separated, or rather I have sniffed an item of their clothing when they went on a trip, not me. I felt a bit silly doing so, mind you, I'll be honest. And while the scent did seem familiar to my nose, could I have picked it out versus other worn T-shirts? I really ain't sure...! By the same token I am rubbish at identifying perfumes on people just by their smell. Unless it is blindingly obvious, like Angel or Coco Chanel.

Source: Pinterest

So yes, sex robots are coming, and will be socially divisive. I can clearly see how they would fill a need in the lives of lonely introverts who might struggle to date women in the normal way, but the more mainstream these dolls become, the more this hyper-sexual image of how women should look might become adopted as the norm. I am lucky I guess to be pushing sixty, and poised on that delicate cusp between cougar and care home, but I worry about the younger generation, who are already feeling insecure about their appearance thanks to cattle market 'swipe right' dating apps like Tinder.

So yes, sex robots don't smell human, but to what extent will that even matter?

For readers out there with partners, do you think you could pick out your loved one's T-shirt from a selection of three...or ten even?! And would they also pass the same test?

Then speaking of the science of attraction, up next is a post about my meet up with Geza Schoen earlier this month, who wrote: "The sexiest part of a woman is her mind."

I liked what I knew of Geza and his work before, but I like him even more now...!

And finally, here is a tongue in cheek / spoof song on this very subject...watch out for the incomparable line: 'My sister is a pillow.'


Unknown said...

I may be totally wrong but I imagine the sort of person who is really keen on this kind of robot is more inclined to avoid human 'mess' and see the absence of smells and such as a good thing.

Tara said...

Fascinating if slightly icky subject, V. You write it about with your usual twinkle. Loved "between cougar and care home".
After all I've learnt about the dangers of male "incels" lately, I'm begrudgingly concluding the sex robots could be a force for good.
I don't know how much of a role smell plays in attraction but it definitely has a major role in sex considering this is one of the reasons why those who lose their sense of smell can get so depressed - Michael Hutchence for one example!

Vanessa said...

Hi Bejoux Noir,

Hmm, that's an interesting point you raise. Sadly(?) I don't suppose there will anyone reading who is a 'user' of such dolls and could advise us on this point.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Oh, it is icky all right. I spared everyone the full extent of it, also by using 'head and shoulder' shots of the dolls themselves. There are all sorts of disturbing images on the Net of them in assorted poses.

I am going to have to google 'incels', hold on...goodness me! And I do take your point.

Well, I did not know that about Michael Hutchence - you are a mine of fascinating olfactory nuggets. ;)

Odiferess said...

Hi Vanessa, I am chortling at the idea that this post is going to come up in searches for sex-robots. You will have a whole new readership. I think it might even knock Lidl off the top spot!
I remember a few threads on Fragrantica where people were searching for scents that reminded them of doll heads. Perhaps it's a desirable scent in itself? Decleor hand cream has a whiff of this odd plasticised dusty vanilla.
Does the top image remind you of Mrs Trump?

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

Haha, I hadn't thought of the SEO implications - I should probably be active on Instagram if I took such things seriously - but who knows? I would be glad if I brought some lonely men into the perfume fold...

I vaguely remember a thing about the scent of dolls' head, though must say it's not a smell I crave. But maybe this means the sex robots will be all right smelling as they are.

I get the Melania similarity now people mention it but it had not struck me at the time of picking out an image. ;)

Undina said...

What a fascinating topic! Where else would I have read about it?! :)
The positive/encouraging thing is that, unlike it happens with unrealistic proportions of Barbies when it comes to forming girls' self-images, by the time boys could afford those dolls, their perception and expectations will be completely formed ... by unrealistic Playboy models (or whatever goes as a Sex Ed for kids these days).

On the scale of parts missing from the sexual relationships with a doll/robot somehow I do not see the absence of the smell as the biggest obstacle (if any). But I'm positive there will be the whole industry providing clothes, accessories and care items (including taste and smell options) for those robots.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I do think the porn industry - and even the media in general - has a lot to do with shaping young people's perceptions of beauty, and expectations of sexual relationships. It is a lot of pressure on girls especially.

And you may well be right that most users won't miss the smell element, or it may be 'retrofitted', along with other optional extras!