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

Mick Grierson becomes a professor

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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.

MA Computational Arts graduate launches jewellery business crowdfunder

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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.


Music Computing students explore the sounds of Millennium Bridge

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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.

← 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.

Goldsmiths academics develop groundbreaking online courses in Virtual Reality

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Coursera, the global leader in online education and learning, has launched its first series of courses on Virtual Reality, developed by Goldsmiths Computing lecturers.

The VR Specialisation, comprising five course modules, has been developed by Dr Sylvia Pan and Dr Marco Gillies, based on a combined 25 years’ experience in some of the world’s most prominent Virtual Reality research labs.

Their expertise in Virtual Reality centres on the generation of interactive and engaging virtual characters, one of the focus areas in the new Specialisation they teach on Coursera.

“Many of the mistakes made by Virtual Reality content creators come from not understanding the psychology of how VR works and what it means for how we create content, which is an important feature of this Specialisation,” said Dr Marco Gillies.

“In Virtual Reality users need to physically interact so they feel present in the surrounding environment. This means other characters must respond in the same way they would in the real world. These courses combine theory – the basic psychology of how VR works – with practical production skills. All the time learners are doing the practical work, they are also having to think about the psychology behind it.”

“Another important part of this Specialisation is Social VR. Social interactions in Virtual Reality are such a powerful experience; Users are sharing the space with someone who is life size, so the body language works in a way it doesn’t on a regular screen.”

Learners will get hands-on experience using many of the leading technology tools for Virtual Reality content development, and in particular the world leading game development project Unity.

“The potential for Virtual Reality to change the way we work, learn, and play is significant, but we need more people educated in VR technologies and design to get there,” said Jessica Lindl, Unity’s Global Head of Education.

“This series of courses from the University of London is a great example of a credential that can really help anyone interested in applying Virtual Reality in the work that they do.”

Dr Sylvia Pan, lecturer in graphics at Goldsmiths, said: “The launch of the Virtual Reality Specialisation presents a real opportunity to use online learning to grow the number of people equipped with the skills required to become VR content creators. Learners will take the skills developed in each of the preceding courses and put these into practice to develop their own Virtual Reality game.”

“The development of Virtual Reality courses is pivotal to cementing the role the technology will play in everyday life and across enterprises. The creative industry has naturally become the first sector to integrate Virtual Reality. However, the potential applications range across many industries, including healthcare, engineering, online collaboration, and more. The medium of Virtual Reality is developing rapidly and those making content now are creating the fundamentals of the technology. We are really excited that our learners will be able to contribute to the future of Virtual Reality.”

The specialisation comes in five courses that will be released starting on 25 September 2017.

  1. Introduction to Virtual Reality
  2. 3D Models for Virtual Reality
  3. 3D Interaction Design in Virtual Reality
  4. Building Interactive 3D Characters and Social VR
  5. Creating Your First Virtual Reality Game