Mixed-reality marriage: man weds idoru

Paul Raven @ 23-11-2009

Virtual girlDid you catch the story at BoingBoing about the guy who went and married his computer game girlfriend? The original link is all in Japanese, so details are scarce, but the young lady in question is a character from Love Plus, one of those “virtual girlfriend” games. [image by Ramona.Forcella]

Unsurprisingly, a peep at the comments thread reveals that it’s probably not quite everything it seems to be – Konami, makers of Love Plus, are quite savvy on reality-crossover marketing for these products, and I think we’re safe in assuming that the fellow in question may have been motivated by something more than a deep affection for a bundle of pixels on his Nintendo DS. The most notable thing about this story is how easily most readers seem to take it at face value.

I expect part of that has to do with the cultural mythology that surrounds Japan – much as I try to avoid it, it’s hard not to think of Japan as a country with some very alien cultural attitudes (which is ironic, given that anthropologists are often keen to point out how similar the sociocultural pressures in Japan are to those of the UK). But we’re also very accustomed to realistic and expressive avatars inhabiting computer simulations, and with a bit of research it’s probably not too hard for a well-funded development team to work out exactly which buttons to push in the mind of a player to produce the desired effect – be it tension, aggression or love.

Furthermore, people get married in Second Life and other metaverses, so a physical presence obviously isn’t a prerequisite for the required level of affection. Perhaps in countries with high population pressures and low numbers of eligible partners – China leaps immediately to mind – marrying an idoru will become more commonplace as the effectiveness of the artificial intelligences behind them increases? I’m sure that David Levy would agree with me on that…


The robots are hungry (and horny)

Paul Raven @ 30-06-2009

Everybody loves robots, but how will you keep your domestic systems running when energy supply is expensive or sporadic? Jimmy Loizeau and James Auger have an answer straight out of classic science fiction dime novel territory – you design them to consume organic matter. Organic matter from the corpses of household vermin.

The pests are lured in and digested by an internal microbial fuel cell. This exploits the way microbes generate free electrons and hydrogen ions when oxidising chemicals for energy. Electronics can be powered by directing the electrons around an external circuit before reuniting them with the ions.

“As soon as there is a predatory robot in the room the scene becomes loaded with potential,” Auger told New Scientist. “A fly buzzing around the window suddenly becomes an actor in a live game of life, as the viewer half wills it towards the robot and half hopes for it to escape.”

Although, for now, the robots rely on mains power, Auger believes they could become truly self-sufficient. “If the system fails, the grid goes down and all humans die, these robots could go on living so long as the flies don’t go with us.”

Machines with a taste for flesh – what could possibly go wrong? [via MetaFilter]

In other robot news, Sega have bought and rebadged WowWee’s unsuccessful FemiSapien robot, which now goes under the name EMA (Eternal Maiden Actualization – sounds like a transhuman manga title, AMIRITE?) as a potential mechanical girlfriend.

The robot […] is designed to pucker up for nearby human heads, entering “love mode” using a series of infrared sensors powered by battery.

“Strong, tough and battle-ready are some of the words often associated with robots, but we wanted to break that stereotype and provide a robot that’s sweet and interactive,” said Minako Sakanoue, a spokeswoman for the maker, Sega Toys to Reuters news agency.

“She’s very lovable and though she’s not a human, she can act like a real girlfriend.”

EMA can also hand out business cards, sing and dance.

Originally designed for the teen girl market, for some inexplicable reason the FemiSapien just didn’t click with her target demographic; whether the male otaku lobby will take to her inherently platonic charms remains to be seen. Personally, I’d hold out for an augmented reality idoru; if nothing else, she’d take up less space on my desk. [also via MetaFilter]