Beyond sex robots: the real sex tech revolution

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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

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

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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. swiseman.co.uk


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. http://doc.gold.ac.uk/~mas01kd


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. www.sasj.nl


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. gold.ac.uk/computing/people/harriet-sorrel


← Subscribe here to win GUEST, GHOST, HOST: MACHINE! tickets

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We’re giving away six tickets worth £10-£15 to the Serpentine Gallery’s all-day marathon of talks, readings and performances on artificial intelligence, machines, trans-humanism and non-linear time.

Where: City Hall, Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2AA
When: 10am – 11pm Saturday 7 October 2017

GUEST, GHOST, HOST: MACHINE brings together artists, scientists, activists, engineers, poets, sociologists, philosophers, filmmakers, writers, anthropologists, theologians and musicians to consider the advent of ‘artificial intelligence’, consciousness, interspecies cooperation, machines, trans-humanism and non-linear time.

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

If you don’t win, you can buy tickets here. But you’re all winners, really, because you’re subscribed to the Goldsmiths Computing blog :)

Welcome (back) > Goldsmiths Computing induction week 2017

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The new academic year starts on Monday 25 September with a week of welcome activities before teaching starts on Monday 2 October 2017.

The week includes a six-hour creative hackathon, undergraduate and postgraduate social events, a careers workshop, and induction sessions for all new and returning students.

Freshers studying BMus/BSc Music Computing and BSc Computing & Chinese will also join activities organised by the Music Department and Confucius Institute respectively.

DoC.Hack, our welcome week hackathon is organised by student tech society Hacksmiths. For six hours, you’ll design and build tech projects – and meet students & staff from across the department in a relaxed, informal environment. No special skills needed – just bring a laptop. Limited tickets – registration essential

Update: We have now published students’ personalised timetables. These are still subject to some change until teaching starts on 2 October, so we urge you to check it regularly.


Monday 25 September

  • Year 2 induction, 2.30-3.30, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building
  • Year 3 induction, 3.45-4.45pm, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building
  • Employability & work placements workshop, 5pm, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre

Tuesday 26 September

Wednesday 27 September

  • Foundation and Year 1 induction, 10.30am, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre

Thursday 28 September

  • PhD/MPhil induction, 3pm, Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building
  • Undergraduate social, 5pm, College Green Marquee

Friday 29 September

  • Postgraduate induction, 2.30pm, Room 304, Richard Hoggart Building
  • Postgraduate social, 4-6pm, New Cross House, London SE14 6AF

Download your full schedule (PDF)


Contact computing@gold.ac.uk for any Computing-related enquiries.
Contact admissions@gold.ac.uk for enquiries about joining the university.

OVERLAP Computational Arts degree show 2017

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On Thursday 7 September 2017we launch OVERLAP, the 2017 final degree show for our MA/MFA in Computational Arts.

The weekend-long exhibition explores the exciting new waves originating from the intersection of art and technology. It features installations, interactive virtual and augmented realities, and conceptual works by mixed-disciplinary artists from fields as diverse as fine art, dance, photography, graphic design, puppetry, sound art, and architecture.

On Saturday 9 September, we are running a Computational Arts Family Day, where the artists will demonstrate their work to children, parents, teenagers and teachers.

WHERE
St James Hatcham Building (‘the church’)
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross
London SE14 6AD

Opening night
6pm-9pm Thursday 7 September 2017

Exhibition continues
10am–7pm Friday 8 September 2017
12noon–8pm Saturday 9 September 2017
12noon–6pm Sunday 10 September 2017

OVERLAP on Twitter  /  OVERLAP website


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Sat 9 Sept: Computational Art Family Day

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Parents, children, teenagers and teachers are invited to our special family day of Goldsmiths’ MA/MFA Computational Art degree show exhibition.

We all live in a time of incredible technological change. New technologies like 3D printing, dating apps, artificial intelligence, DNA sequencing, virtual reality and big data processing are the way we live and connect with others.

At Goldsmiths, MA/MFA Computational Art students have explored the technological and cultural impacts of computation, and have developed exciting artworks, designs and tools.

This year you’ll encounter interactive sound art, dancing robots, shamanic technology, electronic fabric, glowing crystals, tools for disabled artists & musicians, computer-generated books and jewellery, and a microbiological tour of your intestines.

People of all ages are welcome. Arrive any time between 12noon and 5pm. Please closely supervise children and younger teenagers, as even the most robust artworks are easily damaged.

Where: St James Hatcham Building (‘the church’), Goldsmiths, University of London
When: 12noon-5pm Saturday 9 September 2017
Tickets: Register on Eventbrite

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MA/MFA Computational Arts students exhibiting in 2017

About the exhibition
Overlap is the 2017 final degree show for the MA Computational Arts programme at Goldsmiths College, University of London. The weekend long exhibition explores the exciting new waves originating from the intersection of art and technology. It features ground-breaking installations, interactive virtual and augmented realities, and thought-provoking conceptual works by mixed disciplinary artists from fields as diverse as fine art, dance, photography, graphic design, puppetry, sound art, and architecture.

  • Opening night: Thursday 7 September 2017
  • Continues Friday 9 – Sunday 11 September 2017
  • Exhibition website: overlap.show

Mon 18 Sept: Future Mind conference

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This September, Goldsmiths Computing hosts an international one-day symposium ‘Future Mind’ in collaboration with Kyoto University.

The Future Mind conference is open to academics, professionals and research students. It covers the themes of art, science, future technology, VR and psychology, with sessions on:

  • Art of Future, Future City and Looking for Japan
  • Communication of the Future, Vision and Mind
  • VR Art and Imaging of the Future
  • AI, Art Critic of the Future
  • Future Mind

Opened by Patrick Loughrey (Goldsmiths’ Warden), Dr. Juichi Yamagiwa (President, Kyoto University) and the UK Ambassador of Japan, the conference will initiate longer term collaboration between Goldsmiths and Kyoto University.

  • Where: Goldsmiths, University of London
  • When: Monday 18 September 2017
  • Registration: FREE. Register here