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Samantha the Sex Robot Needs Repairs After Abuse at Trade Show

At a consumer electronics show in Austria, an anatomically correct sex robot is roughed up by attendees, raising many troubling questions.

Ars Electronica. (Tom Mesic/Flickr.)

It’s hard to believe, but even Samantha the Sex Robot might need to be reprogrammed to ward off unwanted sexual advances.

It sounds like something out of a futuristic novel, but the robot’s developers were shocked by how Samantha was treated at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria.

Developed by Dr. Sergi Santos and Arran Lee Squire at Synthea Amatus, Samantha might be better described as an artificial companion because she’s able to converse about many topics, like philosophy and science, and tell thousands of jokes. She is nothing like a novelty blow-up sex doll, and far more realistic than a high-quality mannequin. Samantha has been available for purchase for several months now for about $5,000 US.

Brimming with the latest in artificial intelligence (AI)  — and with sensors located throughout her body — Samantha responds to many forms of touch, including family, romantic, and sexual.

The company is developing male companions, too. For many early adopters, she’s exactly as her name implies — an incredibly expensive, lifelike, anatomically-correct robot designed to provide companionship.  

In truth, Samantha is not so far removed from the “robots “ featured in a few of the original Star Trek episodes and, not surprisingly, many of the same moral questions that this landmark sci-fi series tackled in the 1960s still apply. It’s worth asking if building thousands of robots to do our bidding is really just a high-tech form of slavery, or what rights might accrue to our creations as artificial intelligence moves closer and closer to sentience.

Synthea Amatus robots have been designed with lonely men (and women) in mind, but Samantha isn’t programmed to accept just any sexual advance. Santos says that she is programmed like a game, and she only responds to romance and gentle touch. The men who buy this companion are encouraged to consider what it takes to meet her “needs” for sex, and, later, “pleasure.”

As it is possible to substitute SD cards in robots like Samantha, it is possible that other real-life behaviors could be modeled.

As you might expect, the media — particularly tabloid newspapers — have covered the story extensively since she was introduced to the world. At the Ars Electronica Festival, thousands of people stood in line to meet and interact with Samantha.

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  • Richard Levangie is an award-winning journalist with degrees in science and journalism, and an MFA in creative nonfiction. His work has appeared in The Globe & Mail, The Montreal Gazette, and more than a dozen magazines. His middle grade adventure, Secrets of the Hotel Maisonneuve, won the Atlantic writing competition for unpublished manuscripts, and is currently in submission. He is writing a memoir, tentatively called Redemption is a Bottle of Red, about surviving 20 years with daily migraines and a misdiagnosed neuroendocrine tumor.

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