Beyond sex robots: the real sex tech revolution


Goldsmiths press office Pete Wilton interviewed Dr Kate Devlin ahead of Sex Tech Hack II, where experts gather at Goldsmiths to discuss and make new kinds of intimate technology.

Sex robots are all over the news but is the technology as advanced as some suggest or could the real sex tech revolution look very different? This Friday (24 November 2017) Sex Tech Hack II will see experts gather at Goldsmiths, University of London to discuss and make new kinds of intimate technology.

Ahead of the event I talked to Dr Kate Devlin, Senior Lecturer in Computing at Goldsmiths, who is researching a new book about sex robots and was recently named on the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 list, about how to separate scientific reality from electric wet dreams…

Pete Wilton: What myths about ‘sex robots’ need debunking?

Kate Devlin: That they exist. They don’t really, despite the flurry of media stories. There are mechanised sex dolls with some chatbot AI, but that’s about it. But they are being developed, and they currently extend the sex doll market, rather than looking at new or innovative forms. Like much technology, it’s very hetereonormative: these tend to be dolls made by men, for men. The hypersexualised female form is presented as the default.

PW: Which sex tech developments should we be most concerned or hopeful about?

KD: Sex tech has great potential to bring people happiness, whether it’s by enhancing pleasure and fun or providing a sex life for someone who – for psychological or physiological reasons – might face difficulties otherwise. It’s an industry estimated at around $30 billion worldwide and climbing.

New technologies can forge new forms of intimacy. Smart toys can be connected via the Internet, helping long distance relationships, for example, or changing the landscape of sex work, such as the cam industry. That said, there are areas that need close attention: security and privacy issues are key. The past year has seen at least three security and privacy vulnerabilities in smart sex toys.

PW: What are the major challenges to advancing this area of technology?

KD: Funding is problematic: in industry, venture capitalists don’t tend to fund sex tech as they have vice clauses that prohibit them from investing in adult ventures. Start-ups are reliant on angel investors.

Academia doesn’t fare much better: it seems that the best way of funding research into sex is to spin it from a health point of view. There’s also an attitude that research into sex and intimacy is trivial, which seems odd as for many people it’s such an intrinsic part of being human.

PW: How can initiatives like ADA-AI help to change the Artificial Intelligence agenda?

KD: ADA-AI is a new international non-profit organisation focused on evaluating, developing and lobbying around AI policy and regulation. I am one of 25 advisors and we look at how to ensure AI can contribute positively to society, especially for marginalised and underrepresented groups.

The current threat of AI is not superintelligence and a robot takeover; instead, it’s the unconscious bias in datasets and the lack of diversity being perpetuated and reinforced by systems that are now integrated into our lives.

PW: What do you hope will result from Sex Tech Hack II?

KD: Last year’s Sex Tech Hack was a great success and 50 people made 14 wonderful new examples of intimate technology. This year we have more people attending, plus a discussion day on Friday 24 November, with industry and academic experts giving talks and leading break-out sessions.

Hacksmiths, the SU tech society, have done an amazing job bringing it all together. We’ve ended up with an incredibly diverse group of attendees all set to make accessible, fair, fun prototypes. This year’s challenges are: “intimacy”, “accessibility”, and “personalisation”.

PW: How is work on your upcoming book going? What topics will it cover?

KD: The book (Turned On: The Science of the Sex Robot) continues and the deadline approaches – I wish I could say I’m as close to finishing as I should be! It’s a popular science book about sex robots – the origins of the narratives, which go right back to Greek myth, through to the sci-fi portrayals in films today. I’m writing about artificial intelligence, robotics, attachment, love, ethics and law. Send me your bad puns.

First published in Goldsmiths News, 21 November 2017

Mick Grierson becomes a professor


Goldsmiths academic Mick Grierson has recently been honoured with a professorship in the Department of Computing. Here’s what he said…

Goldsmiths’ commitment to interdisciplinarity has made it the perfect place for me to develop as an academic. In the late 1990s, my obsession with experimental film and video led me to undertake a PhD across two departments, analysing and producing work through computation, in an attempt to progress the sci-art fusion that inspired the earliest computer art.

The idea of programming computers to analyse and create art was considered unfashionable by many at the time. But thanks to academics such as Janis Jefferies, Robert Zimmer, Michael Casey and later, Mark d’Inverno, this wasn’t the case at Goldsmiths. So I came.

I joined Goldsmiths from Kent University’s Film Studies Department in 2006, bringing with me an interdisciplinary AHRC Creative Fellowship in interactive filmmaking, computation and cognitive science. Although I was originally in Music, I soon found myself taking a permanent job in the relatively embryonic Computing department, as the director of the newly launched Creative Computing BSc programme.

Over the past decade, it’s been immensely satisfying to see the department develop into one that is as successful as it is interdisciplinary. I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue my funded research in Creative Technologies throughout this period, whilst helping to launch and maintain a number of academic programmes, including Creative Computing, MA/MFA in Computational Arts, Music Computing (with the Music Department), Digital Arts Computing (with the Art Department), and the PhD in Arts and Computational Technology.

Goldsmiths is now one of the UK’s leading institutions for creative code, attracting the finest academics in the field, whilst producing world-renowned research in interaction, creativity and machine learning. I’d like to think I’ve played a part in that transformation, and hope I can continue to do so.​

Mick Grierson and Matthew Yee-King ask how computer science can benefit from art school approaches to learning.

Mick Grierson’s website

This article was first published on the Goldsmiths staff intranet.

Student profile: AG C00P3R, 2nd yr Music Computing


Culture magazine LONDON HARDCORE recently interviewed 2nd year music Computing student James MacPherson – better know as AG C00P3R. We reprint the article here.

Anarcho-electronic experimentalism and broken techno collide in this improvised live set from AG C00P3R.

Where are you from and where are you based now?
I was born in London but spent the majority of my life split between Anglesey, West Sussex and for the longest span of time, Suffolk. It only made sense then that I picked a university in London as I have always taken every opportunity to visit the city. London for me is very separate to the rest of Britain, a hub of people from all walks of life. Musically it’s the bridge between America and Europe. As a result it’s a constantly evolving community within community, anything and everything is happening in London. It’s a place for me to broaden my understanding of art, politics and culture.

After a successful few years doing Music Technology at Suffolk New College, I’m currently in my second year at Goldsmiths doing Music Computing; essentially the course teaches computer programming but with a focus on music. I can’t live without exercising the creative and technical part of my brain so it’s a perfect niche.

The end goal is to create my own audio software/hardware to aid my music creation, I’m unhealthily fussy about music gear/software, so it makes sense to learn how to make your own. Music combined with technology is something I’ve been pursuing since I started playing around with music software (that came free with a packet of cereal) at the age of 7; I don’t see myself ever stopping that pursuit.

End Of Year Music Computing Performance, Generative ‘Ableton’ drums and home ‘Max For Live’ tape loops.

Current projects?
Recently I made some music for a dance duo (Catherine Taylor and Kathleen Pearlson). We are big Twin Peaks fans and previously they had been practising their routine to Haxan Cloak so I had to produce something which combined all of those elements. Making several tracks within a track was a fun challenge and gave me a chance to try and convey narrative through music. This inspired me to work with a lot of the amplifier based distortion techniques I use to add texture to my current projects.

There is also a gentler side to my musical output. I contributed a sound design experiment to Natalia Szcz’s soundscape for Matilda Skelton Mace‘s exhibition piece at Clinic //2 in the Bargehouse, London. Matildas work involved these mesmerising glowing clouds in front of a huge structure with nature landscapes used as animated textures via projector mapping.

Sonically, I experimented with creating tape style loops in the digital domain that don’t just travel repeatedly in the time domain but also scan through the frequency domain via FFT; the end result is a morphing swarm of textures slipping and sliding over each other.  It combined with the visuals really well, providing this alluring and meditative audio-visual experience. Although it was a bit bizarre for me seeing the piece in this environment as it had previously been used for their fantastic Universe Of Tang parties; I do like the idea that something that has originated in a club/party environment can be presented in a traditional art context.

Currently, I’m part of a collective called EDITED; our aim is to organise events and spaces that encourage cooperation between individuals and experimental art forms. Last week we put on a night, under the name of ‘108 KICKS’ that presented experimental music in a dancefloor/club environment. The results were a merging of abrasive soundscapes with flurries of distorted kicks! One of my favourite events we put on was in an abandoned police station in Deptford. Some friends and I were performing our music whilst artists had set up multimedia art installations in the jail cells, in fact, some of the artists were inside the cells, quite unreal but great fun.

EDITED presents 108 Kicks

What would be the one track that currently characterises your sound?

Untold – Sing A Love Song.

This track incorporates elements of Musique concrète with dance music in such a fantastic in your face way! The main vocal loop reminds me of Steve Reich – It’s Gonna Rain; the vocals shift in phase creates rhythmic syncopation and changes the focus of frequency due to constructive and deconstructive interference of the phase. It marvels me how the brain latches onto non-musical sounds and makes them seem musical.

A huge inspiration from this track is how the distortion acts as a form of glue, each element of the track dynamically affects each other by squishing the other sound sources in a fight to stay in the limelight. This is further enforced by the jittery kicks that push and pull with the music’s rhythm and dominates what little room there is in the sonic space. This is in opposition to when the piano loop drops in, it is in such contrast to the wearing barrage of sounds prior that it is genuinely shocking.

The production approach Untold took is something I greatly admire, to the best of my knowledge the album was produced in a week. This has resulted in a level of sonic spontaneity between all the tracks that makes sense in the context of the album. The rawness of this album makes it feel very genuine almost like a snapshot of where Untold was physically and emotionally at the time of producing the album. This is the workflow that I now prefer, making music in a 24 hour timeframe keeps the music focused on the vision and the raw intent that gave birth to it. Whilst I can spend days polishing a track, the extra layers of polish pull away the elements of my own personality from the track, it starts to feel less genuine, less me.

I would love to see how people react to this track in a club, a moment of utter confusion, raw chaos at 128 bpm.

Untold (RBMA Tokyo 2014 Lecture)
How did you make this mix?
This improvised mix was made entirely in the box using Ableton. Max For Live was extensively used for sequencing; a bank of preset dance rhythms are cycled through and mixed and matched to form the backbone of the mix via the control of 606 drum machine samples. A group of more abstract drum sounds are controlled by a morphing pattern generator. I can change how fast this pattern starts to change and how it should be filled, lot’s of long rests or fast percussive rolls. This in combination with the loop length allows me to layer some more distinct polyrhythmic elements that are filled with small fills and rolls. The final track is Native Instruments Massive, not the ‘sound of dubstep’ wavetable powerhouse synth, but an old Reaktor ensemble. It’s a sequencer that can morph through a collection of samples and settings; I randomise this to create clanky abstract loops to layer on top of the mix. Processing wise most elements in the mix are sent through a helpful smothering of amp distortion and tape saturation which gives that coat of grimy texture on all the sounds. The mix is deliberately dynamically squished, it’s meant to be loud and wearing to the human ear, this sonic assault is what I feel links my music to Hardcore.

As I’m using the computer just as it is I couldn’t simultaneous tweak a lot of things at once. I had to take a more microscopic approach by changing one parameter at a time. That way things didn’t get too boring and loop forever whilst I was tweaking away. The computer was doing its own thing independently, thus I see it almost as a band member. The computer and the human both improvising! The danger was that the computer wanted to go in its own direction and I wanted to go elsewhere. This created a dynamic struggle, a level of frustration but also danger. Danger that everything can go wrong! This is what makes live performance exciting to me, the live in the moment decision making and unpredictability is a thrill. I think this energy also engages the audience, you’re all on the same ride together, no one knows what’s around the corner. For me, it’s important that no two performances are the same and this method helps fulfil that goal.

Due my location at the time, I couldn’t stand up and dance when making this mix. If you have ever seen me live you know that I dance uncontrollably. I love dancing. This frustration of dancing in the confines of my seat combined with the over-compression and lack of physical hands-on control of parameters (just using a mouse to frantically click around) lead to the music coming out more sporadic and panicky than it usually does. That level of frustration from the computer vs human interaction I think added a manic crazy quality to the mix. Music gear doesn’t make you a good or bad producer but definitely affects your music output; in this case, it’s affected by a lack of control through awkwardly interfacing with music via the laptop keyboard and mouse.

That being said the future of my performances does contain a box of buttons and knobs now via Native Instruments Maschine, yet the philosophy is still very computer focused. My current experiment is using Maschine in Ableton to feedback midi from between both pieces of software. Through Midi processing via Max For Live every action creates a knock on effect that causes the music to evolve and create variations based on what is already existing and what is about to exist in the sequence. The next level in my computer call and response approach.

What is the message?
I make music under the aliases of AG C00P3R, the name is partly a reference to my favourite TV series, Twin Peaks. The cheesy use of the numbered letters points to how most of my music is ‘computer’ based in some form and feels very much like something you would encounter in an internet forum rather than on a record.

As someone who is from the internet era, it feels like a good form of personality representation. The music from this aliases is designed to create new experiences for the dancefloor, It’s my attempt to deconstruct the Techno that I normally make and present fresh interpretations of dancefloor conventions.

I love to confuse and challenge people but I also want them to dance and have a good time, this means learning to strike a balance between established dance music conventions and experimental sonic practices. This can be from how I design sounds and generate composition to how I perform music in a live situation. This way, much like the chaotic nature of the internet, I’m forced to organically evolve my sound and to experiment to keep things new and exciting.

Thanks to LONDON HARDCORE for writing this great piece.

MA Computational Arts graduate launches jewellery business crowdfunder


2017 graduate Charlotte Dann has launched a £15,000 Kickstarter campaign for her new jewellery business, which uses cutting-edge 3D-printing technology.

UPDATE 17 Nov 2017: Charlotte has successfully raised the £15,000 she needs. Congratulations, Charlotte!

Hexatope is a system that allows you to design your own unique jewellery using intuitive interaction with a hexagonal grid. Designs are fabricated using 3D-printing technology and cast into sterling silver or 18 carat gold.

Using touch or mouse input you activate hexagons, and curves are drawn between active neighbours on the grid. Curves flow into one another, diverging, converging, and overlapping with seemingly organic grace. When your design is complete you can animate it to visualise the 3D design in your prefered metal, finely tune how the curves overlap one another, and chose the point from which it will hang as a pendant.

hexatope_charlotte_portraitCharlotte Dann is a designer/developer based in London, working across a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from electronics to fine glasswork. Her interest in coding began as a teenager, and she worked professionally as a web developer while completing a BA in Jewellery Design and Silversmithing at The Cass.

She undertook the MA in Computation Arts at Goldsmiths to explore the intersection of these two disciplines, both in how computation can supplement traditional making techniques, as well as how the process of designing tangible objects can be informed by computational thinking. In September 2017 she founded her own studio to continue working on Hexatope and exploring other design/tech pursuits.

“I started working on Hexatope while undertaking the MA. I was experimenting with using the framework of a hexagonal grid to generate art with code, and soon realised that the project integrated very well with jewellery design, my other vocation. I wanted to leverage programming to design and create tangible objects, and using 3D-printing technology and traditional metalwork I’ve been able to bring Hexatope designs to life”

“I think the most exciting thing about Hexatope is that it gives everyone the opportunity to be a designer and make beautiful, personal pieces of jewellery that they can wear every day.”

You have until 16 November 2017 to back the Hexatope crowdfunder. Pledge £60 or more, and you’ll receive your own sterling silver or 18ct gold pendant.

What do @goldcomputing academics do when they’re not teaching?


When they are not teaching or marking, it’s easy to imagine that our academics just sit quietly in low-power mode, like the A.I. child in Stephen Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence.

But apparently they do something called research.

To investigate this phenomena, we invite you to join us every Wednesday afternoon, when one Goldsmiths Computing academic will talk about the stuff they are researching.

3pm-4pm Wednesday 11 October / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building
Dr Sarah Wiseman: The world’s tiniest, most important design problem
Sarah is a lecturer whose research focuses on Human Computer Interaction. Her research interests include: medical interfaces, citizen science recruitment and haptic technologies for users with visual impairments. She is also involved in public engagement and science communication work, which includes performing stand-up comedy about her research, as well as giving talks at the Royal Institution and Science Museum.

3pm-4pm Wednesday 18 October / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building
Dr Kate Devlin: NSFW: HCI, AI and sex tech
Kate Devlin is a senior lecturer who works in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), investigating how people interact with and react to technology, to understand how emerging and future technologies will affect us and the society in which we live. She is currently focusing on cognition, sex, gender and sexuality and how these might be incorporated into cognitive systems such as sexual companion robots.

3pm-4pm Wednesday 25 October / Room 342, 2nd floor, Richard Hoggart Building
Saskia Freeke: Creating artwork every day
Saskia Freeke is lecturer in Physical Computing. as well as an artist, creative coder, interaction designer, visual designer and educator. A big part of her artistic practice is her ongoing daily art project that she started January 2015, in which she explores and experiments with generative patterns and animations.

3pm-4pm Wednesday 1 November / LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building
Dr Sorrel Harriet: Using data to improve the learning and teaching of coding
Sorrel teaches on topics related to databases, data programming and web application development. Over the past ten years, Sorrel has been involved in professional web development, both inside and out of academia. Most recently she worked alongside Matthew Yee-King at Goldsmiths helping to develop the Music Circle platform.

Music Computing students explore the sounds of Millennium Bridge


Goldsmiths Music Computing students have released Where Everything is Music, their first album of 2017.

In early October, course leader Dr Freida Abtan took her first year Music Computing students for a soundwalk across the Millennium Bridge, which spans the Thames between St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern.

Students take recordings and then make pieces of music from only these sound sources. The project is only given a one-week from walk to release.

Over the next three years, these students will be immersed in performance, composition, musicology, design, psychoacoustics, digital signal processing and computer science – and we’ll be listening to the results. Subscribe to this blog (enter your email into the ‘subscribe’ widget on our homepage) for regular updates on how our students progress.