Right now, in this actual universe, there exists a robot that writes porn. That is a real thing, not just a dream I had. There’ll be more to this blogpost than that simple fact, but I wanted to put it first because it pleases every single aspect of my nerdy, sex-curious, erotica-loving brain. Last weekend, Goldsmiths University hosted a sex tech hack: they got a group of clever, imaginative people together and gave them a bunch of sex toy hardware to play with, then asked them to create things around the themes of intimacy, companionship and sexuality. One of the many incredible things that came out of this was a robot that writes porn.
Sex tech fascinates me, because when we talk about sex in the media or down the pub, our focus is often purely physical. You put this bit here, or rub it there, and get a sensation which may or may not blow your mind in bed. And when someone comes out with a shiny new sex tech gadget – whether that’s a vibrator that ‘remembers’ your preferences or an app that you use to explore a fetish – we do often focus on what it does. You press this button and get that output. Here’s an instruction manual. Happy wanking.
If that’s all sex tech was, we’d get bored of it quickly. Like a cheap vibrator with only 3 settings, once you’ve checked out the functions it loses appeal and ends up jammed at the back of your bedside drawer along with out of date condoms and that bacon-flavoured lube you bought as a joke. But the most interesting sex tech products encourage us to think about more than just where it goes – prompting us to as questions like ‘What exactly am I looking for in a sexual experience?’ or ‘Could I improve the way I communicate with my partners?’
I’m going to tell you about some of the kickass things people made at the Goldsmiths sex tech hack – run by sex robot enthusiast and all-round awesome person Dr Kate Devlin. If I went through all the projects here I’d be writing for hours, but if you are in any way interested in this (and why wouldn’t you be?) I’d urge you to check out the #sextechhack tag – where you can see more info, pics and demos as well as the winning project – LovePad: a soft robot specifically for non binary users. UPDATE: you can also check out a video of all the project presentations here. I haven’t identified anyone here by name because I know some people might not want to be named on a sex blog, so I’m erring on the side of caution. If you’d like me to include a name credit please do let me know and I’d love to add one in.
OK. Admin done: let’s get stuck in.
Shaggable sex tech
Have you ever wanted to have sex on a big pile of money? I hadn’t thought of it before, and I’m probably far too poor to try – it’s probably less hot when it’s the change out of a coppers jar rather than a stack of dollar bills. But the link between money and sex drove one team at the sex tech hack to come up with a vibrator that’s linked to stock prices. ‘Ride the market, fuck the system‘ turned financial data – like the FTSE 100 or your own stock portfolio if you’re rich enough to have one – into vibrations on a 3D-printed vibrating fist. Tell me you’re not considering a) which graph you would shag if you could and b) where you can get hold of the pattern for a 3D-printed fist.
“Bonk It” (yes I KNOW all the things have amazing names) was one of my favourite creations. The team who came up with this took the otherwise-totally-innocent kids’ toy Bop It and turned it into a remote control for an Orgasmatronics vibrator. As more sex toys companies try to replace physical remote controls with apps, thus increasing the risk of you getting lube all over your phone, it was nice to see people exploring just how super-tactile physical controls can make a difference to the way you use toys. Their suggested uses were way more playful and exploratory than anything you’d read in a sex toy instruction manual. What’s more, the Orgasmatronics vibe is so intensely powerful than when you twist, pull or bop the remote control, the vibe itself practically jumps out of your hand.
Wearable sex tech
If I want to try a new sex thing, I tend to just email/whisper/text lovers to say ‘have you ever thought about putting your dick in me while I swing from a lampshade?’ But that kind of directness clearly isn’t for everyone – ‘how can I tell my partner I like X?’ is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently here. There are apps on the market which try to help with these conversations already – you swipe left or right on a kink depending on whether you’d like to try it, and your partner does the same. If you match, the app tells you. If you don’t? It’ll move on to another question. But at the sex tech hack, someone came up with the genius idea of making the act of saying yes more physical. Instead of swiping left or right on a phone app to indicate ‘yes’, you wear a hoody (or other item of clothing) which you unzip when you like a suggestion. You’ll both be shown the sex questions, then if both of you unzip at the same time, a light starts flashing to show that it’s time to get it on. I really love this super-physical demonstration of approval for a sex thing: it’s enthusiastic consent, and then some. It’s also called ‘Zip hoody hoo-ha‘ – again with the amazing names.
Another personal highlight was the ‘Cybra‘, made by Cam and May. Cybra is a bra that monitors your arousal and outputs different colours on a screen depending on how turned on you are. The creators suggested various uses, and then on the train on the way home all I wanted to do was get my hands on one then hook it up to a Philips Hue lightbulb: effectively giving me a neat foreplay shortcut as well as making me look a bit like a Bond-villain badass when my living-room lights change in anticipation of sex.
Porn-related sex tech
Simple yet fascinating – the ‘NSFW to ASCII‘ client took porn searches, fetched a relevant still from PornHub, and translated it into ASCII. You can see some examples of ASCII porn here if you’re not entirely sure what it is. Basically it’s a way to render images as pure text, and I can tell some of you are thinking ‘why would I want to do that?’ Well, not only can ASCII porn slip through certain filters, it also provides a fascinating edge-case. If the UK bans certain types of porn (as is looking likely under the Digital Economy Act), but the rules only cover images and video, where exactly does ASCII fit in? ASCII – in my opinion – sits squarely on the line between ‘image’ and ‘text’ so at the very least could be used to baffle the censors for fun. Basically I’m looking for an excuse to send the censor a bunch of edge-case ASCII ‘images’ which I’ve edited by hand. This one is a still of two people shagging – does it count as porn? This one WAS two people having a chat, but I’ve edited it so it looks like they’re shagging – does it count? This one is a picture of a lady, but I’ve edited it so it looks like she’s squirting – are you going to ban it? FUN!
And on the topic of porn, let’s return to the love of my life: the porn-writing robot (official name: ““). It has scraped the whole of Literotica, then the text has been fed into a neural network. Voila! A robot has been taught how to write porn. While I should probably worry in case I’m out of a job, the text it spits out probably isn’t quite good enough for a book deal yet, but it has a certain poetic quality, and I loved it so much that I might (fingers crossed) have a robot-written guest blog for you to read at some point soon. It’s another edge case for the censors, too. Part of their job involves deciding what counts as porn, and often porn is incredibly hard to define – what makes this image pornographic and this other one artistic? For practical reasons, censors usually look to intention – was this created primarily for the purpose of arousal? If I’m writing a story I can tell you that it was. But a machine likely has no intention – it’s just creating code. Can a porn-author robot ever truly be a pornographer?
I-cannot-even-put-this-into-a-category sex tech
Do you see what I mean about sex tech that gets us asking questions? I hope a lot of you are currently thinking about sex games you’d play with Bonk It, or what exactly counts as porn. Next question: how would you feel about having a peacock tail that opened up when you were aroused? My initial answer to this was ‘fuck no – that would be terribly embarrassing on the tube’ but in fact the idea is spectacular when you get to grips with the thinking behind it.
The team who created Peacock started with the idea that visual signs of arousal are hot. I’ve admired more than my fair share of boners in my time, and I couldn’t agree more. Not just the satisfaction of seeing someone’s hard-on, and knowing ‘I helped make that happen!’ but also the process of watching someone get hard. Seeing them go from flaccid to semi-hard and then through to visible boner is… well, if I talk about it more I’ll need to go for a lie-down. But while I get to see my partner getting hard, he doesn’t have as clear a sign of my arousal as I have of his. What’s more I miss out on the sense of satisfaction and pride that he gets in his own erections. ‘Oh I’m so wet right now’ is a nice feeling, but I can’t quite show it off in the same way he can pull down his trousers and release a quivering rock-on.
Well, Peacock does exactly that: it looks like a peacock’s tail, and it’s connected to moisture and pressure sensors. The idea is that when the sensors pick up on your vaginal arousal, the tail fans out to show just how keen you are to get to sexing. I’m worried this summary hasn’t quite captured the majesty of the idea, but I can tell you that after hearing the explanation of what it was for, when I saw the peacock tail fan out I was struck by just how proud I’d be if it were mine.
So I guess that is as good a point to end as any, because it sums up neatly why I love sex tech: it doesn’t just give us better/faster/more powerful tools to wank with, it gives us a whole bunch of questions to take home and ponder later. It makes us think about ourselves and our bodies in new ways. It prompts more and better discussion about sex with our partners. It opens up possibilities we may never have considered.
And robot porn, of course. It also means we have robot porn.