Sergi Santos wants everyone to have an A.I.-powered guardian angel from birth, and his first step toward that dream is building his sex robot business. The 39-year-old Spanish engineer behind Synthea Amatus has been working on his vision for nearly 15 years, but he’s come up against intense opposition.
“Many people have a tendency to say these are for the lonely,” Santos tells Inverse. “This is my hypothesis: They say it because they’re embarrassed, so they wouldn’t like to say to their friends, ‘Look, I would like to fuck that’ … these guys are my enemies.”
His pride and joy is Samantha, a $5,000 sex robot that Santos started selling in August. The machine’s brain has an SD card slot for installing software updates, while the robot charges via USB. It stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighs in at around 100 pounds and has an array of 11 sensors designed to respond to the user’s touch.
In the future, Santos wants his project to expand to unimaginable heights. Where titans like Microsoft and Amazon have built voice-activated assistants for the home, Santos thinks the end goal should be a humanoid machine, assigned to everyone by the government, that takes care of every single mundane task in your lifetime.
“Now you don’t have to work, don’t have to care about doctors because this cyborg will know everything about you and be able to heal you, this guy will be your angel, your protector,” Santos says. “Imagine if we could have something that takes care of human beings at all levels.”
There’s an obvious question here: If Santos’s goal is to benefit humankind in such a universal way, why exactly is he starting with sex robots? Santos acknowledges this.
“I’ve started with sex dolls,” he says. “It’s a ridiculous thing to do. You might say, ‘What an idiot!’” But by his reckoning, sex robots are just a means to his ultimate end.
“Say whatever you like, but you might also start with smartphones, because the phone actually turned into the all-powerful thing,” he says. ““The body was there, it’s good, it’s simple, people like sex, there’s an industry, and it’s not like the phone. If I now want to compete with phone industries, I need $500 million.”
Santos has been working on this project for a long time. At the core, Samantha is powered by A.I. that aims to emulate human emotions. Instead of trying to make decisions based on all available knowledge, Santos’s system focuses on a small subset of data that’s relevant to the moment. It’s modular, meaning he can upgrade it in the future to cover more non-sexual areas. His paper on the technology was published in the International Robotics & Automation Journal.
Santos plans to update both the hardware and software regularly. He’s already updated the hardware to version 1.2, which started shipping in October and includes support for vibration in the artificial vagina and hand.
But production is slow, at a rate of around two per week. Santos estimates he needs around $500,000 to expand his operations, and he needs to do it fast to beat larger companies and move out of what he refers to as his “idiot in a garage” phase. It’s make or break time.
“If I make say, 5,000 for Christmas, I succeed,” Santos says. “If I make 50 for Christmas, I’m out.”
Over the past two months, his creation has seen a whirlwind of publicity. At last month’s Ars Electronica Festival in the city of Linz, Austria, Santos had to take the doll away from a public demonstrations after it was “soiled” by “barbarians.” Two British stores have started selling the doll, and it was featured on daytime TV show This Morning.
His project has received criticism from a number of sources. Some people say his work is unoriginal, while others criticize the notion of designing a sex robot in the first place, claiming that Santos did it for his own benefits. He points to the over 60 publications he has in respected journals, and his wife of 16 years, as reasons why he’s “protected” against these claims.
“When people want to attack me and say say ‘oh, the guy can’t find a woman’… look at my wife,” Santos says. “She’s really beautiful. And if you meet her, probably you’ll understand I’m really lucky to have my wife.”
While Santos speaks with us on the phone, his wife is packing a doll, ready for shipment to America. She’s a graphic designer, and played a key role in Samantha’s development. She helped Santos find suitable materials for affixing sensors around the doll’s body, as well as an effective method for fixing broken material. Sex robots, Santos explains, cover a wide range of disciplines.
“I don’t know a single person that wouldn’t like to work on this!” Santos says.
He sees the machine as serving three main purposes. Partners with a high sex drive can buy them as a way to fulfil needs, it reduces the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, and it stops people from spending money on prostitutes and extramarital affairs.
“Sometimes I go out with my friend, I say ‘hey how you doing?’ ‘Wow, you know what, started having this small relationship with this one…yeah we go to this hotel every Thursday at night, and then I took her for a small trip here…’” Santos says. “This guy is spending money with another woman…but probably this money should go to his children!”
Santos doesn’t want to trick people into buying his machines. He received an e-mail from one customer, who had purchased the machine and sent the $5,000 only to regret the decision later. Santos understood the problem, and refunded the money.
“Look, let’s be honest here. You’re extremely horny, you’re about to wank because you’re alone, okay?” Santos says. “You’re so horny that you take your credit card out and pay. But then you wank, you finish, and you say, ‘why did I do that?’…I don’t want people to do that…I want to have a successful company.”
It’s hard to escape the fact that Synthea Amatus seems to hold promise in the sex industry, but Santos appears convinced that it’s part of something bigger, a step toward large-scale yet personal automation. He frames Samantha as the automation of prostitution, the first job to disappear under a mass shift in civilization.
“Many people come tell me ‘oh, prostitutes will lose their jobs’,” Santos says. “I say, okay, it’s a great job, prostitution. I wish my mother and my sister were prostitutes. But other than the joke, they also say ‘what happens if the robot takes my job?’ I say, ‘look, you don’t care about your job. You don’t even care about money.’”
Similar to tech entrepreneurs like Y Combinator’s Sam Altman and Stardock’s Brad Wardell, Santos sees a future coming where humans are freed from the drudgery of work. Samantha, the sex robot, is the machine that Santos believes can make this happen.
Thanks to robots, we’re going to need basic universal income. Check out this video to find out why.