In Oscar-contender Her, Joaquin Phoenix falls hopelessly in love with an operating system.
If the experts are right, he won’t be the last.
From how we experience sex to how we might eventually do away with it altogether, here's a round of technology's plans for our life between the sheets.
1 | We're going to date our computers
Writer / director Spike Jonze got the idea for his double Oscar-nominated film Her from a primitive instant messaging programme. The programme took whatever users said to it, chewed it up and spat it out, resulting in a kind of pseudo-conversation.
From there, he started thinking about “the idea of a man having a relationship with an entity like that, [but] with a fully formed consciousness”.
Far-fetched? Not according to Leah Reich, who holds a PhD in sociology and wrote a thesis on sex with cyborgs.
“Most of us can’t conceive of having these relationships with anything other than a human being,” says Reich. “But look how much time people already spend staring into their phones.”
Plus, Reich adds, existing tech – such as home appliances made by Nest, the company Google recently bought for $3.2bn – is already able to learn about your own likes and habits. “That’s sort of seductive. Don’t you want something that always understands your needs?”
2 | We're going to 'do it' with Google glass
Cybersex is nothing new. But Jesse Adams, CEO of adult app store Mikandi, says the boundaries between online role play games, chat rooms, live shows, dating apps and porn movies are about to be blurred by the uptake of a new consumer technology – one that affords users a more personal experience.
Last year his company became the first to shoot a porn movie using Google Glass and made it available on its own Glassware app. The admirably named Tits & Glass allowed users to experience the movie as its creators intended – in true point-of-view – as well as watch, share and comment on other adult content downloaded to their device.
Unfortunately for Adams, the app was disabled after Google changed its terms of service for Glass to prohibit sexually explicit material. However, he thinks the internet giant can only delay the inevitable. “Google Glass is not just a camera,” he says. “It’s a communication device for adults. And adults are sexual, so it’s impossible to stop it. Eventually, porn will find a way.”
3 | We're going to give up actual sexual contact. Like the Japanese.
With its insatiable appetite for technology, if any country offers the rest of the world a window on the future, it’s Japan. And, according to Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, more and more of Tokyo’s young men see relationships with real women as “mendokusai” – tiresome and not worth the bother.
What’s more, a recent survey by the Japan Family Planning Association found that a third of people aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”.
“I don’t know if the real thing is, by default, superior in every respect,” says Kelts, noting that up until recently eyebrows would have been raised by the idea of ticking boxes to create a paradigm of a romantic partner, before shopping for them as if they were on book on Amazon.
“But people do it,” he adds. “Once a more technologically advanced OS or dating sim comes along, I don’t think it’s a massive leap to think that more people will be striking up relationships with software.”
4 | We're going to get a helping hand from robots.
OK. So, we might talk to computer programmes and, just occasionally, flesh-and-blood women can be a little “mendokusai”, but what about the actual sex?
One alternative will come in the form of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. There isn’t a release date for a consumer version just yet, but the company behind it has just received $75m in funding and has a community of 40,000 developers and enthusiasts beavering away.
They’re making immersive 3D environments, games and – in the case of the VG Tenga – hacking together devices to make something best described as a robotic hand-job machine.
Mikandi’s Jesse Adams says it’s just the beginning, but admits there are still some creases to iron out. “That kind of two-way remote control virtual sex would be awesome,” he says.
“The hard part is making good devices that will give you physical pleasure along with the visual stimulation. Right now they’re clunky, you have to plug them into the wall and they’re kind of gross to clean.”
We say give us a real woman any day – even if, like Her, the operating system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand.