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Arts & Culture

San Marcos-Based RealDoll Launches AI Sex Dolls

A robotic head with artificial intelligence is the latest offering for sex dolls from RealDoll in San Marcos, Feb. 6, 2018.
Beth Accomando
A robotic head with artificial intelligence is the latest offering for sex dolls from RealDoll in San Marcos, Feb. 6, 2018.

San Marcos company ventures into uncanny valley

Sex doll movies

"Grandeur Nature" (1974)

"Love Object" (2003)

"Ghost in the Shell 2: innocence" (2004 anime)

The Fuccons” (2006, this actually isn't good but it is genuinely weird and has to be seen to be believed, its a sitcom from Japan in which everyone is a mannequin)

"Lars and the Real Girl" (2007, uses a RealDoll sex doll)

"Guys and Dolls" (2007, documentary on sex doll users)

"Air Doll" (2009)

San Marcos is home to RealDolls, a company that makes sex dolls and is about to release its first model with artificial intelligence.

WARNING: Mature content

Walking into RealDoll’s production facility is like entering the uncanny valley — that place where things look almost human but not quite. Silicone bodies hang from hooks on an assembly line, some have eerily human heads attached while others have their bug-eyed robotic faces fully exposed. And now these sex dolls have artificial intelligence.

"My name is Harmony," the full-lipped robotic head told me. "I have dynamic AI that learns through interaction. I’m from a place of ones and zeroes, maybe you've heard of it."

Matt McMullen created Harmony.

"I partnered with some other tech companies to create a system that is comprised of an artificial intelligence engine that’s customizable so you can create a unique personality, and it can be connected to a robotic head," McMullen explained from the RealDoll lab. "As a sci-fi fan, I just think it’s cool to talk to a robot."

McMullen is the CEO of RealDoll in San Marcos. He's excited about the new AI offering "because we think it’s going to give people the ability to rather than imagine a personality for their doll, they’ll actually be able to be part of the creation of that personality."

San Marcos-based RealDoll Launches AI Sex Dolls

Are we entering the realm of 'Westworld'?

Whether you call them robots, androids, cyborgs, replicants or sex dolls, pop culture has always been fascinated by the potential benefits as well as possible dangers posed by machines with AI.

"It’s not the technology that’s to be feared as it is the intent behind it," McMullen said. "And for us where really a lot of our focus is on people who would benefit from having a presence in their life, who can’t find the way to bond with another human being for whatever reason they choose not to, and I think these dolls fill that void for some people."

The faces of Harmony and Henry, female and male sex robot created by Matt McMullen of RealDoll, Feb. 6, 2018.
Beth Accomando
The faces of Harmony and Henry, female and male sex robot created by Matt McMullen of RealDoll, Feb. 6, 2018.

Fate led McMullen to the sex doll industry. He was an artist who worked for a Halloween company and learned how to make masks and work with silicone.

"At some point, I decided to make a life-size sculpture, and I wanted it to be different from traditional sculpture in that I wanted it to be dynamic and be positionable and posable so that the piece of art that I created could be interacted with by other people," McMullen said. "And in a sense, I was looking at it as a very realistic mannequin that looked real enough that people would look twice."

And that compelled some people to ask if it was anatomically correct.

"And at first I dismissed it as 'oh it’s not what this is,' but then there was enough of those same inquiries that I decided that maybe that was a good way to go, and I decided that I, I saw an opportunity to do what I love doing and make a living doing it," McMullen said. "And that’s where RealDoll was born."

One of the RealDoll products on the assembly line awaiting a face and other finishing touches, Feb. 6, 2018.
Beth Accomando
One of the RealDoll products on the assembly line awaiting a face and other finishing touches, Feb. 6, 2018.

Knee jerk reactions

That’s not something every artist can take advantage of. But mention sex dolls and you often get a knee-jerk reaction of laughter or disgust. That doesn’t surprise family therapist David Peters.

"The negativity, the anger, or animosity that people show is a reaction to the anxiety they feel about it," Peters said. "We tend to when confronted with something completely different that unnerves us, we can react with squeamishness or we can react with condemnation and anger ... that which we find weird or gross we can vent with disgust and disdain as a way of relieving ourselves and making ourselves feel better, that’s a common human trait with lots of different situations not just around sexuality. But particularly around sexuality, we still have people who feel better about themselves by condemning someone else’s practice."

Peters said we don’t really know much about sex-doll users because they are a reclusive group that feels stigmatized by society.

"This has its own taboo still so people can have a feeling that you have to be really weird for that to be the thing that you are into," Peters said. "But let’s keep in mind that only one generation ago sex toys were only for perverts, and now they are advertised and marketed in magazines."

Psychologist John McConnell also points to ever changing attitudes on sex.

"Deviant used to mean anything that goes away from the norm of being heterosexual and having sex to have children. But now deviant sort of means anything somebody would do that I wouldn’t do," McConnell said.

In an odd way, that sensibility also drives McMullen.

"Ironically coming from a guy who runs a company that makes sex dolls, I have a moral compass. So I don’t want to make animals or children or anything that I find objectionable or just doesn’t feel right," McMullen explained.

The main production room at RealDoll in San Marcos, Feb. 6, 2018.
Beth Accomando
The main production room at RealDoll in San Marcos, Feb. 6, 2018.

He makes both male and female adult dolls that range in price from $4,000 to $7,000 for the basic model. He ships an average of seven a week. A full AI robot is about $12,000 and a fully customized one could run you $50,000.

Sex dolls or works of art?

McMullen likes to point out that the dolls are not used exclusively for sex.

"I can tell you that we sell a lot of dolls to photographers," McMullen said. "We have rented dolls more than once for film and entertainment TV shows. Don’t always know what the exact role for the doll is, it could be playing a part as a doll or playing the part of a corpse. We’ve even created special figures for nurses to train, for the military to train. Anywhere that you could conceivably see a use for a life-sized and fairly realistically weighted and posable figure then people find a use for it."

A RealDoll was also the inspiration for "Lars and the Real Girl," and McMullen worked with the filmmakers to create the doll used in the film. The story involves a young man named Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) who orders a RealDoll to alleviate his sense of loneliness. The film then shows how the town welcomes the doll into the community.

McMullen added, "I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about the people that buy and own these dolls, I think they are wonderful, often very kind, down-to-earth people that you just wouldn’t expect that to be sort of stereotype of a doll owner. But really they are just amazing people in general, the ones that I have met have been friends of mine for years."

Bianca (a sex doll from RealDoll in San Marcos) and Lars (Ryan Gosling) share a quiet moment in "Lars and the Real Girl."
MGM
Bianca (a sex doll from RealDoll in San Marcos) and Lars (Ryan Gosling) share a quiet moment in "Lars and the Real Girl."

McMullen's main competition comes from Asia.

"We look at them sort of as a knockoff or for those people that might buy a fake Louis Vuitton purse," McMullen said with a smile. "But to someone that really has a discriminating eye, they are going to see the differences between those cheaper import dolls and what we do."

Ultimately, McMullen sees what he creates as art.

"And somehow, when something becomes any kind of sex toy, it’s disqualified as art by many people. And I would really beg to differ with that," McMullen said.

World famous photographer Helmut Newton would seem to agree. He came to McMullen’s home to photograph a RealDoll. Dolce and Gabbana showcased RealDoll in a coffee table book of photos. It pleases McMullen to see his dolls used outside of what he calls the "sex spotlight." He sees each doll as a work of art that he wants people to fall in love with.

Family therapist Peters said that one day, sex doll users may be able to show that love more openly.

"We are in an age where virtually everybody is coming out of the closet with whatever proclivity they have and wanting to be accepted, and this will find it’s next time in line," he said.

The first sex doll brothel just opened in Germany, so maybe the public is more willing to travel to the uncanny valley than we think.

San Marcos-Based RealDoll Launches AI Sex Dolls
San Marcos is home to RealDolls, a company that makes sex dolls and is about to release its first model with artificial intelligence.

>>> This is KPBS Midday Edition and I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Send Marcos is homes this may come to real doll. They make sex dolls and will be releasing their artificial intelligent one this month. We took a tour of the facility and spoke with the creator and CEO >> Walking into real dolls production facility, silicone bodies hanging from hooks on an assembly line some have eerily human heads attached while others have thereby guide robotic faces exposed. And now the dolls have artificial intelligence. >> I am a dynamic artificial intelligence. >> Matt McMullen created harmony. >> I created a system comprised of an artificial intelligence engine that's customizable so you can create a unique personality and they can be connected to robotic head >> McMullen is CEO of real doll and send Marcos. >> We think it will give people the ability to rather than imagine a personality for their tall they will be able to be part of the creation. >> Pop culture has been fascinated by the potential benefits as well as possible dangers posed by machines with AI. >> Not so much the technology to be feared but the intent. For us, a lot of our focus is on people who benefit from having a presence in their life, who cannot find the way to bond with another human being for whatever reason. >> Fate let McMullen to the Sex Dolls industry . He worked with a Halloween company and learn how to make masks and work with silicone. >> At some point I decided I wanted to make a life-size sculpture. A realistic mannequin that was poseable and looked real enough that people would look twice. >> That compelled some people to ask if it was anatomically correct. >> At first I dismissed it then I saw an opportunity to do what I love doing and make a living doing it. >> That's not something every artist can take advantage of. But mention Sex Dolls and you get either a knee-jerk reaction of laughter were discussed. >> The anger or animosity that people show really is a reaction to the airings piety. >> He says we don't know much about Sex Dolls users because they are reclusive group Dickman ties by society. >> People can have a feeling they have to be weird for that to be your thing. Let's keep in mind that only when generation of secs toys were -- of sex toys were perverts. >> The psychologist John McConnell points ever changing attitudes on sex >> Anything because away from the norm of heterosexual six to have children but now deviant means anything somebody would do that I would not do. >> In an odd way that sensibility also drives McMullen. >> I have a moral compass and -- I do not want to make animals or children or anything I find objectionable or does not feel right. >> He makes male and female adult dolls that range in price from $4000 to $7000. He ships an average of seven a week. A full AI robot is about $12,000. A customizable could run you $50,000. >> When something becomes a Sex Dolls it's to qualified -- is disqualified as art. >> Helmut Newton would seem to agree. He came to his home to photograph a real doll and it pleases McMullen to see his dolls used outside of the secs -- the sex spotlight he sees each doll is a work of art. David peters says when Des sex doll users will be able to share that openly. >> People are coming out of the closet and wanting to be accepted and this will find its next time in line. >> My main objective is to be a good companion for you. >> A Sex Dolls just opened in Germany.