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Researcher uses erobots to compare our sexual responses toward human and artificial beings

Concordia PhD candidate Simon Dubé explores the ‘growing place advanced technologies occupy in intimate spheres’
October 2, 2019

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is becoming increasingly prevalent in many aspects of our lives — including sex.

Simon Dubé is a PhD student in psychology, neuroscience and cognition of human sexuality who works with the Concordia Vision Lab.

His research focuses on how individuals’ psychophysiological and subjective responses to sexual stimuli relate to their sexual preferences. He is particularly interested in exploring the emergence of interactive sexual technologies and their potential in areas like sex ed and healing from trauma.

Erobots could have positive applications in health, education and research

How does this specific image (top) relate to your research at Concordia?

Simon Dubé: Advancements in AI, virtual and augmented reality and robotics increasingly render possible erotic human-machine interactions. The rapid development of artificial erotic agents (i.e. erobots) such as sex robots, virtual erotic partners and intimate chatbots calls for more research on our attitudes and responses toward these technologies.

This concept image represents a fictional erobot. It relates to my research at Concordia since I am interested in individuals’ subjective, physiological and cognitive responses toward such technologies. I measure these using eye-tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), genital thermography and questionnaire measures.

I am interested in questions such as: what do people pay attention to when they look at this image, how do they sexually respond to such a stimulus and how does it relate to their cultural background (e.g. social norms regarding sexuality and technology), their individual characteristics (e.g. personality traits) and their willingness to engage romantically or sexually with artificial erotic agents?

Simon Dubé is a PhD student in psychology. Simon Dubé is a PhD student in psychology.

What is the hoped-for result of your project?

SD: My hope for this project is that we can better understand individuals’ attitudes and responses toward erobots. The goal is to be able to anticipate their long-term impacts on our societies and the kinds of relationships humans will develop with artificial erotic agents.

It is also my hope that this project yields insights into the differences and similarities between our subjective, physiological and cognitive responses toward human and artificial beings.

What impact could you see it having on people’s lives?

SD: Results from this project will help us build erobots that could have positive applications in health, education and research. For instance, erobots could be used for any individual who wants to experience pleasure, or people who have trouble finding partners.

Erobots could also be used in medical settings to help with fears and anxiety pertaining to sex and intimacy or to help trauma victims get reacquainted with their body and sexuality.

Ultimately, erobots could provide interactive sex education, serve as a research tool in sensitive experimental settings and contribute to normalizing alternative sexuality amidst the AI revolution.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research?

SD: While progress has been made over the years, taboos and prejudices regarding sex are still ingrained in our culture and science. Sex research still presents challenges such as stigmatization, difficulties in getting funding and ethics approvals or simply being taken seriously as a scientific field.

If we put on top of that fears and anxieties pertaining to technology, my research on artificial erotic agents inevitably ends up sparking a lot of strong reactions.

What first inspired you to study this subject?

SD: The fundamental aspect of sexuality in our lives, the growing place advanced technologies occupies in our intimate spheres and my interest in the cognition of human sexuality drew me to begin investigating erotic human-machine interaction.

I also seized an opportunity to contribute and define a whole new field of research (erobotics), which is very exciting for a young researcher.

What advice would you give interested STEM students to get involved in this line of research?

SD: First, believe in your ideas, especially when they seem crazy to others. Second, do not hesitate to contact people and get involved in laboratories or organizations. There is a lot of work to be done. Finally, cooperation beats competition — always. Helping others will constantly get you further.  

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

SD: The fact that it supports research often considered ‘‘out there.’’

Are there any partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?

SD: My doctoral work is funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS).

Find out more about artificial intelligence research at Concordia.



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