A minimal distinction for a humanoid machine to be considered to be a robot rather than a doll is that it possesses some AI and speech. Both are currently becoming available in sexual humanoids, but the robotics are still simple. This new service context raises a number of theoretical issues. Most all service contexts rely to some degree of inauthentic or artificial emotions on. But arguably no other service encounter places the customer and the service provider in quite so intimate a proximity. Although the emotional labor by flight attendants on a long flight may sometimes try the service provider’s patience (Hochschild 1983), the flight does land, and the passengers depart. Even though Mount Everest guides and clients may be in the same small tent encampment for weeks or months at a time, at the end of the day there is still social distancing. Surgical staff in a hospital OR may sometimes literally hold the patient’s life in their hands, but by the time the anesthesia wears off, most of them are gone. Encounters between human clients and human sex workers are equally intimate as those between humans and love and sex dolls, but the construction of natural emotions is not subject to the same technological constraints and enablers as trying to convey artificial emotions by mechanical and electronic means. These technological constraints, enabling capabilities, and their effects on intimacy provoke the first two research questions:
RQ 1: How are emotions constructed and maintained between humans and love and sex dolls?
RQ 2: How do the technological affordances of a love and sex doll constrain or enable the performance of emotions by the robot?
Addressing these two questions is expected to have practical implications as well as to inform our theoretical understanding of emotional communications between humans and machines.
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At a deeper level, the companion doll or robot raises questions of how intimate human-doll relations will affect human-human relationships. This may in turn depend upon who is attracted to these dolls and why. We should expect gender differences between cisgender males and females as well as non-binary/LGBTQ+ humans. Although there are both male and female love and sex dolls as well as male and female, gay and straight consumers of these dolls, an estimated 90% of sex doll sales are of female dolls to male consumers. To keep things simple, present attention is restricted to this most common pairing. It is also important to consider the question of possible effects at a more macro societal level, even though there is no expectation that the third and fourth research questions below can be adequately answered at this time.
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