— Violet Blue, Oct. 4, 2007, in her column on SFGate.com, describing the Arse Elektronika seminars
An astute observer of all things technical and sexual, Violet Blue describes perfectly the weird dichotomy that exists between man and machine, despite the remote (control) possibility that sprockets will cause orgasmic rockets or motors will purr when powering sex-driven rotors.
It is one area in which human imagination has far outpaced even advanced technologies: virtual sex involving computer plug-in appliances, software or high-tech gadgetry that will deliver the ultimate sex simulation.
After more than 10 years since the infancy of the Internet, few players in the adult tech sector have even come close to manufacturing a marketable, consumer-level sex toy that will allow you to have a meaningful sexual interface with a machine.
But it isn't for lack of trying. Take, for example, the Arse Elektronika seminars held in San Francisco on Oct. 5-7, where sex tech experts from all over the globe gathered to discuss the possibilities of future sex. Or the homegrown movement of sex hobbyists who build "drilldos" and other sex machines in their basement workrooms. Or the popularity of websites like FuckingMachines.com. Or emergent haptics technology, which (literally and figuratively) holds the promise of input/output devices that will mimic human touch within a virtual environment.
In the future, will advanced engineering evolve to the point of surpassing a good, old-fashioned stroke session?
"I think most people will have traditional, bodies-only sex most of the time," said Wired Magazine "Sex Drive" columnist Regina Lynn, who also was a participant at Arse Elektronika. "And some people will enjoy technological enhancements some of the time. And an even smaller group of people will require the technological aids, either because of disability or injury, or because of emotional or mental attachments [like long-distance lovers].
"Yes, haptics and computer-based toys are going to continue to develop and become more accessible, particularly as we integrate those concepts into other technologies like videogames, like surgery, like flight simulators, etc.," she added.
Lynn pointed out that historically, sex appliances have been the result of disparate technologies; this concept was illustrated at Arse Elektronika in a lecture given by Annalee Newitz, author of the nationally syndicated column "Techsploitation," as well as numerous articles focused on the intersection of sex and tech.
Newitz explained that just as vibrators can be traced back to the dawn of mechanization – at a time when the public was first getting used to the sound and presence of whirring motors and electrical machines – it's only natural to sexualize innovative technologies as society becomes more familiar with them and they become integrated into everyday use.
"People are still getting used to 'regular' sex toys, so having them controllable over the Internet is a whole 'nother stage regular folk have to get used to," Lynn said. "I think we'll see much more acceptance and interest when the hardware integrates well with 3-D worlds – games and social networking and all that converging. I believe the [Nintendo] Wii will have a huge influence on the mindset, too, turning teledildonics from something perverted or kinky or strange into something as normal as keyboards and mice."
One man who is banking on the normalization of computer- enhanced sexual relations is Eric White, founder/inventor of the Virtual Sex Machine (VSM).
Since 1997, White and a team of anonymous engineers and computer scientists have developed a product that may be as close to cyber-fornication as anyone can commercially get.
The VSM is a high-tech stroker that plugs into a microcontroller that in turn attaches to the user's computer through the printer port. Combined with proprietary VRCDs that are played on the computer and feature point-of-view content that displays either oral, anal or vaginal intercourse, the user inserts his penis into the stroker, which is synced with the digitized content on the disc. The user then imitates actual physical sensations as portrayed by the model onscreen with varied patterns of suction and vibrations.
"One thing that you'll find is that we never use the word 'toy' with our product. It's a 'virtual reality simulation system,'" White said. "We were very serious about it and still are. If you break the virtual reality experience, then that's what you have – you're sitting there wearing a rubber thing, watching a video. And the whole idea is to immerse the user in the virtual reality experience so that he's actually there.
"You have to suspend a little bit of disbelief in order to get into the experience. And that's not going to happen if you have bad video connections over the Internet. So, the first iteration of the product was to totally control the environment and play it from a video disc."
In its original version, the VSM was supposed to work online with a live model. White claims to have demonstrated the technology in 1998, back when having a webcam attached to your computer was a major breakthrough in user-to-user communication.
"The original version of the VSM was to be live over the Internet," White said, "and we had hoped that as we developed it, that technology would continue to advance and that we would have the product out everywhere and everything would be hunky-dory.
"It didn't quite work out that way. By 2000, when we were ready to release the product, we still didn't have good streaming capability. So, we made the decision to go ahead and release a standalone product so that people would have a quality experience," he said.
In its current iteration, the VSM 2.0 has upgraded components including a custom-made stroking mechanism and removable inner core that is made from a medical grade material that simulates the feeling of real skin.
The next step, said White, now that broadband and streaming capabilities are widely accessible, is to take the VSM live with a network of what could be called "simsex" hostesses, ready to stimulate over a high-speed connection.
Another factor, according to White, that has been a drawback for the sex-tech industry are traditional adult novelty manufacturers that developed computer-based sex novelty systems using low-tech design and poor craftsmanship. Consumers that purchased those products, only to be dissatisfied, are then less likely to buy into a more expensive but highly developed computer sex experience.
But that doesn't intimidate White. By staying under the radar in his manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, he has been working diligently and biding time until the public is ready. His current customer base is loyal, with many repeat buyers. He also is planning an insertable hardware component for the women's and gay markets, and actively is seeking visual content to add to the company's library of onscreen simulations.
"We're not here for the quick buck," he said. "We're in for the long haul. It's going to be years until you have a completely immersive experience because the technology isn't here yet – but when the time comes, we're going to be here."
And while the sex-tech geeks dream of getting it on with replicants that look like Daryl Hannah or, at least, the femme-bots from Bjork's "All is Full of Love" video, the merging of organic with the schematic still seems light years away from reality.