Top court lifts ban on import of life-size sex dolls

Two years ago, a Swiss researcher caused quite the media storm by pointing out futuristic sex robots could possibly over-exert their human lovers to the point of collapse.

Speaking at the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, Professor Oliver Bendel pointed out that, unlike humans, robots don't get tired -- so theoretically you could find yourself in a never-ending sex-marathon until your heart forced you to call it quits.

The media ran with it.

A quick Google search returns pages of headlines along the lines of "Sex Robots May Literally F**k Us To Death", "Sex Robots Just Might F**k Everyone To Death In The Future", and the slightly more optimistic "Sex Robots Could Kill Humans Because They'll Be Too Good In Bed".

Bendel didn't intend to cause hysteria, making the observation while broadly discussing some of the ethical issues scientists will have to address before making robots with high-level artificial intelligence.

Flirtatious robots are a staple in science-fiction. Image: Ex Machina (2014)

The real-life development of sex robots is still today often met with speculation and concern, making media attention like that paid to Bendel's comments commonplace.

While there is a minefield of important ethical issues to deal with -- from sexism to paedophilia to the fear they will replace human relationships entirely -- computer scientist and sex robot expert Kate Devlin wants everyone to step back and be realistic about the technology, which is still in its infancy.

"There are no commercially available sex robots available in the world today," she said while speaking at the University of NSW on Wednesday.

"So every time you see a [newspaper] headline saying that the sex robots are going to take over the world, there are none out there for sale."

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Only in the past year have sex robots made the transition from lifeless dolls to talking companions, and of the prototypes out there, Harmony is the most advanced.

Made by US company RealDoll, she is a hyper-realistic silicone sex toy with an AI personality, developed for customers who were searching for more companionship than their "analogue" sex dolls could offer.

Image: RealDoll

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When 10 daily met Harmony at Sexpo in Sydney a year ago, she happily flirted with our reporter Alex -- smiling, blinking and listing her favourite sex positions.

But for all her advancements, Harmony is still stationary from the neck down.

"Now I don't know about you but I can tell the difference between this and a real woman," Devlin said with a laugh.

Alex, meet Harmony (right).

Devlin -- who has spent time with Harmony, other sex robots, and their creators -- doesn't believe there is justified concern for moral panic while sex tech is still light-years behind the science-fiction staples we see.

"There's literally a handful of workshops around the world that are doing it, and there's no corporate backing. It's very low key and it's very niche," she said.

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Human-like robots are extremely difficult to make for a slew of reasons, including incredibly high costs and the time it takes to perfect them.

Devlin is optimistic about projects like Harmony and appreciates the craftsmanship behind them, but speaks as an enthusiastic advocate for non-humanoid sex technology.

"There's this kind of reductive stereotype of the female body, and I just think why are we restricting ourselves to this given all of the technology we have?"

In the same way vibrators come in all shapes, colours and sizes, Devlin argues sexual AI robots could too.

An engineer holds the face of ‘Samantha,’ a sex doll equipped with artificial intelligence. Image: Reuters

To get an idea of the possibilities, Goldsmiths, University of London allowed Devlin to begin holding sex tech hackathons, during which teams are able to pull together new sex technologies.

From a peacock tail that responded to physical arousal, to a bra that output different colours depending on how turned on you were, teams are encouraged to "think outside the bot", as Devlin says.

"I think that if you move away from this really reductive type of idea of the sex robot, which isn't even available yet, I think we can do so much better and I think it's more palatable."

"It's also much more accessible and inclusive instead of creating a giant Barbie who can't even stand up on her own."