Air travel is already stressful enough, but one terrified woman had to endure a red-eye flight from New York City to Cincinnati while sitting next to a creepy doll named Barbara. Sara Novic of Brooklyn documented the bizarre experience in its entirety on her Twitter page, where she revealed that Barbara’s owner had purchased the life-sized baby doll its own ticket.
“Good news: no person in the middle seat next to me. Bad news: terrifying baby doll that belongs to the man in the window seat next to me,” Novic, a writer, tweeted. The unidentified man had decided, for whatever reason, that Barbara needed her very own seat, causing panic among a number of airline employees.
“Apparently the TSA was frantically trying to match the name and birthrate he provided UNTIL THEY REALIZED...” Novic wrote, adding: “The flight attendant is trying to explain to him why he shouldn't put the doll's name on the ticket next time he buys her one.”
Upon inquiring, Novic learned that the unidentified man was heading to Cincinnati in order to visit Ark Encounter, a replica of Noah’s Ark that was built in Williamstown, Kentucky. Neither the man nor Barbara care enough about the controversy surrounding the Biblical attraction to cancel their journey, apparently.
The story of Barbara has sparked the imagination of Twitter users across the globe, many of whom have made her owner into an object of ridicule. It may come as a surprise, then, that a growing number of men and women have turned to inanimate dolls as the object of their affection; in many cases, the love that these people demonstrate for their plastic partners is surprisingly genuine.
“Doll” is a word with a very specific set of connotations. Only girls play with dolls, societal norms dictate, and only while they’re of a certain age. However, one company has found for itself a lucrative niche that involves stretching the definition of the word.
This is a Realdoll. Realdolls have been around since 1996, first introduced by creator Matt McMullen of Abyss Creations, and they are still in production today. In this decade alone, more than 4,000 Realdolls, each costing upwards of $5,500, have been purchased by customers from around the world. Each Realdoll is catered specifically to its owner, who has the option to customize every aspect of his or her purchase – right down to the exact amount of pubic hair.
Lifelike as they look on the surface, Realdolls fail to emulate a crucial aspect of being alive – they don’t move. At all. Their owners are free to pose them however they so choose, but that is the pose that the Realdoll will maintain until it is moved again. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, this will soon change. McMullen unveiled plans to embed artificial intelligence-powered mechanisms within each Realdoll’s head, allowing them to become “fun and engaging,” at least as much is currently possible given the state of AI.
Let’s imagine a future, then, where robotic sex dolls have advanced to the point where an inanimate sex partner is virtually indistinguishable from a living one. What does that mean for the future of mankind? One dire prediction is that people will eventually stop having sex with other people, leading to a drastic decline in birth rates across the globe. It makes sense: we humans are a complicated bunch. Sex is a biological function with uncontrollable instinctual components, yet we surround it with a wall of stigmas. Why wouldn’t a sex-starved human just purchase a sex robot and never have to worry about hitting the clubs ever again?
The answer, trite as it may sound, is love. A hyper-advanced sex robot might be able to fulfill everyone’s fantasies in the bedroom, but no one is ever going to take that same sex robot home to meet their parents. Nobody is going to choose cuddling with a heap of silicone over a living, breathing human being with a heart and soul. No matter how close an artificial intelligence might eventually come to reproducing consciousness and the human experience, humans will (hopefully) always come out ahead when it comes to providing companionship.
This is not to say that robots cannot or should not help fill the void in humans that can exist in the absence of interpersonal connections. Robots have been used to great success as a therapeutic tool, since they are endlessly patient and can be programmed to notice their users’ needs. Bots can also help humans gain the confidence they need to ask out their crush by providing a consequence-free way to test their flirting skills.
Perhaps the secret to the harmonious coexistence of man and robot is to leverage the strengths of both. Robots can be created to fulfill needs that humans used to fulfill, but they can also be designed to augment our abilities. Instead of fearing a future where mankind dwindles to nothingness thanks to irresistible sex robots, maybe it’s time to embrace our cybernetic alternatives. After all, if the robots do rise up and take over one day, we will be thankful we treated them right.