Taffy is Mills’s sex robot. He gave her that name because it sounded young and playful. This month, Mills and Taffy celebrate their two-year anniversary. Which is to say, Mills had her delivered in June 2014, from a company called Abyss Creations in San Marcos, California.
Taffy is the “RealDoll2, Body A” model, with silicone skin and stainless-steel joints. Her $7,149 price tag included an extra $500 for custom freckles because Mills wanted her to look more realistic. The doll also features, per Abyss’s website, “ultra-realistic labia,” “stretchy lips,” and a hinged jaw that “opens and closes very realistically.”
But back to the very real woman, he’d brought back to his place. “I didn’t want my date to walk into the room and suddenly see Taffy,” he says. “Because if you’re not expecting her, she’s kind of terrifying.”
“So I say to this girl, ‘Give me a minute.’ And I run into the bedroom and quickly throw a sheet over Taffy.” He laughs like it’s the kind of story he tells at dinner parties.“That was a close one.”
Mills looks down at Taffy, who’s lying on his bed covered with a blue blanket and a pile of dirty laundry. Her face is the only part of her that’s visible, and with her vacant stare and unkempt blonde hair, she looks like a dead body, the equivalent of a fresh corpse peeking out of leaves in a forest preserve, waiting to be discovered by an unsuspecting morning jogger.
But judging from the way Mills looks at her, we’re obviously not seeing the same thing. “I wouldn’t exactly call this a relationship,” he says, hesitantly. “I think one of the misconceptions about sex robots is that owners view their dolls as alive, or that my doll is in love with me, or that I sit around and talk to her about whether I should buy Apple stock. In other words, the owners are batshit out of their minds.”
Aside from the doll in his bedroom, there’s nothing especially off-putting about Mills. He’s 57, with a curly mop of brown hair, a goatee, and a pear-shaped physique. He calls himself a loner, but he’s effusive and friendly with strangers and prone to oversharing. He’s an author—he wrote the 2006 book Atheist Universe, which still sells well enough to keep royalty checks coming—and is living off what he calls a “modest” family inheritance.Mills is twice divorced—his first marriage, to a Polish immigrant, lasted for 18 years, until he met his second wife on the Internet. He has a daughter, a 20-year-old college student, of whom he speaks fondly. Yes, his daughter is well aware of Taffy’s existence, but Mills says, “We don’t really talk about it, just like we don’t talk about my television set or washing machine.”
Mills has lived in the same modest three-bedroom home in West Virginia for his entire life. “I was brought home from the hospital to the room where Taffy now sleeps,” he says. It’s sparsely decorated, with a framed, hand-signed letter from Albert Einstein (he paid $9,000 for it) and a photo of the comedian Bill Maher with his arm around Mills’s daughter.
Taffy stays in the bedroom because at 85 pounds she’s too heavy for Mills to carry around. “Moving her from the couch to the bed is like trying to move a refrigerator,” he says of his bedmate. “I bought a stand for her, which is like a gigantic tripod, but it’s not very sexy. So I just leave her here.”
He still dates, and he occasionally tells the women about Taffy. And sometimes, sure, they freak out. “They’ll be like, ‘Don’t call me anymore, I’m unfriending you on Facebook, stay away from me and my children,’ that sort of thing,” he laughs. “It happens. But I’ve met some women who were into me because of the doll. I’ve had sexual experiences that I never would’ve had without Taffy.” By “sexual experiences,” he means exactly what you think he means.
“There was one time where…let me think…” He pauses, trying to remember where he was on the bed in relation to the other two women, only one of whom had a heartbeat. “I was sucking on Taffy’s left breast,” he finally decides, “and this girl was sucking on the other. It was great. Really hot. I think she was bi-curious.”
He gestures toward Taffy, a permanent fixture on his king-size bed. “Sometimes it’s annoying, always having her here,” he says.“But she can also make life interesting.”
If She Only Had a Brain
This wasn’t what we were promised. Sex robots were supposed to be sexier. Or at least not as creepy. When you think of cyborgs with functioning genitals, you probably imagine someone sleek and beautiful—aesthetically perfect—and capable of staggering carnal hydraulics. Like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner, or Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science, or Nicole Kidman in The Stepford Wives. Last year’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina summed up our expectations perfectly when a tech mastermind explained his sex-bot creation with this blunt poetry: “If you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you could, and she’d enjoy it.”
Is that asking for too much? Well, apparently it is because sex robots in 2016 are more reminiscent of Mattel’s Chatty Cathy dolls from the 1960s, which couldn’t do much besides coo “Give me a kiss.”
The two biggest names in U.S. sex robot technology— Abyss Creations and True Companion in Wayne, New Jersey—are already selling robotic lovers, but both companies offer more promises than realistic intimacy.
Abyss’s RealDolls come with an abundance of options; you can choose from 19 faces, five eye colors, 15 hairstyles, and 11 different styles of labia. Who knew vaginas came in so many variations?
Meanwhile, the “RoxxxyGold” robot from True Companion—with a base price, before the extras, of $6,995—offers such enticing options as “a heartbeat and a circulatory system” and the ability to “talk to you about soccer.” Plus, regardless of your skills, it will always have an“orgasm.” And of course, the reason anyone wants a sex robot: She has an off switch.
Taffy and her ilk are laughably primitive. But then again, so were the Wright Brothers’ prototypes. We went from “this is a fantasy” to “I want more legroom in premium economy” in less than a century.
In 2007’s Love and Sex with Robots, artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy predicted that by 2050, “love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans.” He even predicts that Massachusetts will be the first state to legalize marriage to robots.
Stowe Boyd, M.S., a futurist and analyst of emerging technologies, went even further, claiming in a 2014 Pew Research Center report that by 2025 “robotic sex partners will be commonplace, although the source of scorn and derision, the way critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.”
The people actually creating this technology aren’t as conservative with the timeline. Abyss founder and CEO Matt McMullen thinks it could take only a handful of years before we see a robot capable not just of ultrarealistic sex but also of “expressing the illusion of emotions.”
Douglas Hines, the founder, and president of True Companion, expects that even before the end of this year, we could have commercially available robot partners that don’t just submit to sexual fantasies but also offer “unconditional love and support.” That’s right, these robots won’t just screw you. They’ll fall in love with you. Which presents a moral quandary. The sex robots of today aren’t especially tempting. But the sex robots of tomorrow might just embody everything you want from a woman. For the right price, you could have a partner that thinks exactly like you and shares your beliefs and interests. She’ll be tailor-made to your tastes, with none of the compromises that come with having a relationship with a real woman.
Wait, Somebody Actually Pays for These Things?
True Companion won’t share its sales numbers, but McMullen claims he’s already sold more than 5,000 lifeless soul mates since the late ’90s. Customers run the gamut: surgeons, lawyers, celebrities (Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil is a proud RealDoll owner), Nobel Prize winners, sheikhs, professional athletes, wounded vets, and regular guys who just want to screw a robot. The market is still small. You’re not going to see Google investing in sex robots anytime soon. “I think the idea of a sex robot probably appeals to a lot of people, but only a small percentage will admit it,” says McMullen. “And only a fraction of them are able to afford it. A sex robot is a major investment, like buying a small car that you hide in your bedroom.” But that will eventually change, he predicts. As the technology improves, the price will drop and sex robots will become mainstream, McMullen insists.
That might sound naively optimistic, but consider this: When the infidelity dating website Ashley Madison was hacked last summer, we learned that the vast majority of male users weren’t actually interacting with real women. Instead, they’d been lured by “chatbots,” computer-generated programs that created around 70,000 fake profiles, nearly all-female, that initiated flirtatious email exchanges with subscribers.
Now that the dust has finally settled, Ashley Madison would have us believe that its business is better than ever. In fact, the owners contend that the site has attracted 6.5 million new members since the hack.
If that’s true—and whether those numbers can be trusted is certainly debatable—it means guys are returning to Ashley Madison despite being well aware that they may be exchanging dirty emails with robots. So millions of men have allegedly made the conscious choice, “Sure, I’ll have an online affair with a woman who may be more software than estrogen.”
McMullen knows that not everyone has an extra seven grand lying around to invest in a robot mistress. So he’s planning on developing less expensive options. Within a year, maybe less, he’ll release a RealDoll Realbotix app that helps users design a virtual partner. “You can create an avatar for her that you can see on a screen, whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet or a computer,” he says. “She’s entirely unique to you and your tastes, constructed from your likes and dislikes.”
If you want her to exist solely on your smartphone, that can be the extent of it. Or you can splurge for a head and body. “The app is basically like Siri, if Siri were all about helping you explore your fantasies and learn more about your sexual identity,” McMullen explains.
That’s what McMullen finds most exciting about a sex robot. He insists that it’s not some masturbatory sex toy for outcasts and weirdos. It’s about sexual self-discovery. “They may learn things about themselves where they’re, like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that mattered to me until I was allowed to try it with a robot,’” he says.
The argument for sex robots almost always comes down to comparing them to sex toys. It’s the first defense used by both McMullen and Hines. RealDoll’s husband Mills thinks any criticism of sex robots is a blatant sex toy double standard. “Women have dildos and vibrators and g-spot stimulators and all kinds of buzzing things, and nobody thinks anything about it,” he says.“But when men have the audacity to buy a sex toy that looks like a woman, suddenly they’re perverts who need to be locked up.” One could argue it’s unfair to compare sex robots and dildos, as dildos don’t have legs or arms or faces with eyes that stare back at you. And they definitely don’t have custom freckles or come programmed to talk to you about electronic music…