Okay Generation X, brace yourself.
The Sex Singularity is coming.
You heard it here first.
(Actually, let me Google check that…. Nope, not the first, there are 770,017 hits for ‘Sex Singularity’. Damn you, internet.)
OK, you definitely heard it here 770,018th. So don’t say you weren’t warned.
The Sex Singularity
Forget the AI Singularity – the point in time when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than human intelligence and starts bossing us around.
We are rapidly approaching the Sex Singularity, when sexualised technologies like virtual reality and robotics become more appealing than ol’ fashion human being boinking.
Imagine it. You don a VR headset and are instantly walking around in an orgy. Or your hall-pass’s bedroom. Or a world where even your weirdest sexual fantasies are completely normal.
Or how about a virtual world where you can interact with other people except as an avatar version of yourself? You could be Fabio or Jo Lo or the Hoff (Note to Self: update pop references). And you’d have complete anonymity, and with that total freedom from inhibitions and moral restraints.
These worlds are already emerging.
In 2018, the industry pulled in over $100 million through VR alone. This number is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2025.
That’s a lot of people walking around in clunky headsets jerking off.
And that’s just VR.
Now imagine adding AI, real-feel “skin” and clever robotics to produce a human-like sex doll. Several high-end producers are making dolls so good that robot brothels have sprung up in Barcelona, Paris and Rome.
Should you prefer to stay in at night, dolls can be made to your exacting specifications and home delivered. That three-boobed man-lady doll with a fruit fetish is just a mouse-click (and around $3000) away.
The One Person Tango
So what happens when we hit the Sex Singularity?
- People have a track record of obsessing over attention-capturing technologies like smartphones;
- Sex sells – literally everything; and
- People love porn (Pornhub, for example, gets 80 millions visits a day – not all of them are our teenage son).
So what happens when we hit the Singularity?
Basically, the entire adult population never leaves the house again.
Economies will collapse when we stop turning up to work, having contented ourselves with endlessly exploring the delights of 24/7, unrestrained artificial sex.
Human sex will become known as an antiquated analogue style of sex that old people used to talk about.
It would be employed for procreation only, which, on current birth-rate trends, would become less popular than, say, doing your taxes.
Epilogue for Humankind
The Sex Singularity will see us go the way of the dinosaurs. Except our extinction will be no mystery to future archeologists. And it will be very, very embarrassing.
Our imaginary tombstone would read:
Here lay Humankind
Where once prospered
Now Pleasured into Extinction
Ashes to Ashes
Jiz to Jiz
The Sex Singularity is a graphic/funny/implausible-though-disturbing example of technology-produced pleasure taken to the extreme.
There are plenty of other less-ominous examples of technology-produced pleasure (think: TV, smartphones, computer games, social media) that tap into our pleasure-seeking drive and deliver cheap, easy hits of feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin.
Our inner pleasure junkies thank us for the hit and immediately ask for another.
But as we know, pleasure seeking has a dark side:
- It distracts from, and sometime degrades, our happiness.
- It can produce envy and status anxiety as we try to keep up with the Joneses.
- It can cause behavioural issues ranging from isolation to addiction.
- It can even cause physical problems like lack of sleep and stress.
Some technologies turbocharge our pleasure seeking.
Checked your smartphone lately? It’s a safe-money bet you are either reading this on your phone or have checked your phone in the last 10 minutes.
Why? Because, our inner pleasure junkies know our phones contain all sorts of pleasure-bringing goodies, like status updates, messages, blog posts, news, gossip and emails. Each phone check (we check our phones around 100 times a day ) brings us a little burst of chemically-induced pleasure.
Happiness & Technology
So should we throw away our smartphones and focus only on happiness?
Me thinks not.
For two reasons:
- Pleasure is part of the elusive happiness recipe (though you can definitely have too much of a good thing); and
- Often we adopt pleasure technologies because they also have practical, helpful uses.
So, I’m not saying we should sell our smartphones or ban the kids from social media or campaign against VR porn.
But we could be a little more discerning about how we use technologies that have a hefty pleasure-seeking trigger.
After all, if something affects your behaviour or your relationships or your quality of life in a negative way, it doesn’t matter whether that thing is a smartphone, artificial sex or heroin. The outcome is the same.
So the cause should be treated with the same mindful intent. Control the cause.
Here’s a couple of thoughts on how. (None of which require you to hand over your smartphone).
Corral Your Technology
Pleasure-producing technologies tend to control us more than we control them. Our smartphones replace thinking (and creativity), gaming replaces real-world experiences, social media replaces socialising, etc.
When the downsides of the technologies become clear (everything from shortening attention spans to online bullying), we reluctantly and sporadically start to control our use of the technology.
I envy that handful of mindful parents that are clever enough to place limits on their use of technology before it becomes a glaring problem.
There are often warnings about the downsides of new technologies as they roll out. But they can be drowned out by promotional hype and the white noise of life.
There were, and still are, lots of warnings about social media, for example.
Maggie and I missed our chance to regulate our kids’ use. Now, in their mid-teens, we have zero prospect of successfully changing their media habits.
I think we’d get better at reading those early warnings if we shifted our perception of new technology from ‘this awesome new thing is commercially available so it must be fine’ to the better default setting of ‘how does this new thing help us and can we limit it to only helping us?’
Early Adapters vs Thoughtful Followers
It might also be helpful to not be first out of the gate to grab the latest new gadget.
Apart from bragging rights, there is little benefit to being first to adapt a new technology (unless it actually solves a tough problem or you intend to commercialise its application).
It would be worth waiting to see the effects of the new technology and then figuring out how to limit the downsides.
The rate of technological innovation is increasing.
Not all these wiz-bang inventions should have us recoiling in fear and running off to join an Amish community. Not all will require us to fret over how they’ll affect our level of happiness.
The much-hyped self driving car, for example, is unlikely to adversely affect our well-being. We’re not likely to become addicted to self-driving cars or to neglect our relationships because we’d rather be self-driven around the block 600 times.
In fact, if the technology is managed well, it will have lots of practical, social and economic benefits.
The technologies we should look twice at are the ones squarely aimed at bringing pleasure. Tequila-shot technologies. The ones that seem like a good idea at the time, but have longer-term downsides.
I think the next (foreseeable) pleasure-packed technologies will come from advances in AI, Internet of Things and home robotics. Expect your inner pleasure junkies to go bat-shit crazy over these bad boys. The hedonic treadmill will be in overdrive.
They’ll have some practical benefits too – otherwise we wouldn’t adopt them – so the downsides will be hard to spot, at first.
Our challenge will be to listen to the warnings and to be mindful of how we use the technologies.