I can’t remember who first said it, but it seems truer every day: The future just ain’t what it used to be.
Here we are in 2010, and I’m still waiting for my personal jetpack, let alone a transporter. Flying cars? Fuhgeddaboutit. Phasers? Not even close. I want Rosie the Jetson’s robotic maid; instead I have Roomba the robot vacuum cleaner.
But there is some good news: They’ve finally invented a robotic companion like the ones in "Westworld."
At the other trade show in Vegas last week, the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, a company called True Companion threw a coming-out party for Roxxxy, a 5-foot 7-inch, fully functional rubberized “girlfriend” with a personality, of sorts.
According to her daddy, former Bell Labs AI whiz Douglas Hines:
"She can't vacuum, she can't cook but she can do almost anything else if you know what I mean... She's a companion. She has a personality. She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch. She goes to sleep. We are trying to replicate a personality of a person."
Think of her as a party doll with a doctorate.
Roxxxy will be available in five prefab personalities, from Wild Wendy to Mature Martha and Frigid Farrah, for $7,000 to $10,000 apiece (though why someone would pay for a frigid version is beyond me). That still makes her cheaper than a mail order bride and less likely to bolt once she’s gotten her green card.
(And yes, to all my female readers out there, they are apparently working on a male version as well. So stay tuned.)
To be fair, Hines has grander goals: to make companions for all kinds of activities beyond sex, and ultimately to find a way to preserve human personalities and memories after our bodies are kaput. He’s just starting with sex because, well, that’s how nearly everything starts.
Still, when I was a kid, 2010 was going to look a whole lot different. I expected to be vacationing on Mars and having my meals prepared automatically simply by voicing a request. I did not expect to spend the better part of two days reinstalling an operating system and software after being hit with a nasty virus, as I did last week.
There's one great innovation the sci fi of my youth didn’t really prepare us for -- at least until Neal Stephenson and William Gibson started writing -- is what you’re reading right now: the InterWebs. That’s changed virtually everything we do. (Today’s cell phones are also kind of amazing, even if the networks they rely on often are not.)
Unfortunately, as the Net gradually dominates all media, not all of those changes are for the better. Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier has an excellent essay in today’s Wall Street Journal about how collectivism -- what some people like to call “the wisdom of crowds” -- is actually killing innovation and turning us all into peasants:
"Here's one problem with digital collectivism: We shouldn't want the whole world to take on the quality of having been designed by a committee. When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don't get innovation."
A world in which everything looks and reads like Wikipedia? Not one I want to be a part of. But that’s where we seem to be headed in the short term -- especially as automated content factories continue to ramp up, fueled by the goal of gaming Google, so that vast amounts of Web content are virtually indistinguishable.