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Let's Talk About Sex . . . With Robots


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2009 Loebner Prize Winner David Levy

"I think the sex robot will happen fairly soon because the bottom is dropping out of the adult entertainment market . . . and this seems to me an obvious direction to go," David Levy says.

Credit: Teri Pengilley / guardian.co.uk

Interactions between humans and machines are evolving to the point where they could include having sexual relations, says David Levy, who won the 2009 Loebner prize for the most human-like chatbot. The annual Loebner competition is based on the Turing test, inspired by a 1950 paper by British computer scientist Alan Turing that states when communicating only through a keyboard, a judge should have trouble distinguishing between communicating with an artificial intelligence (AI) program and with a human being.

Levy says chatbots have not made much progress since he last competed in, and won, the competition in 1997, and he was surprised to win this year. "It's a very difficult problem to solve, and to solve any of the major tasks in AI requires a huge amount of effort," he says. "One of the reasons computer chess progressed was that the subject was so interesting that there were hundreds of people all over the world working on chess programs, and on the hardware as well. I think that if the same effort was devoted to good conversational programs — if research institutes or governments or corporations threw enough money at it — the state of the art would advance even further."

In 2007, Levy published his book "Love and Sex With Robots," which was then rewritten as a Ph.D. thesis for Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Levy says the field is not that advanced, and so far there has been little interest in adding conversation software to sex robots. However, there is a great deal of AI research going into artificial emotions and artificial personalities, as well as areas such as artificial skin and companion or carer robots. Levy thinks it is a matter of as little as three years before advanced sex dolls with electronics and electromechanics are developed.

From Guardian Unlimited (UK)
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