Readable as Intimate: Toward a Conceptual Framework for Empirical Interrogation of Software Implementations of Intimacy

  • Kit KuksenokEmail author
  • Stefania Santagati


We provide a conceptual framework to assess the technical readiness of sex robots for intimate relationships with their human users. We build on an existing framework of simulation of sociality by social robots, and extend it through the lens of the sense–think–act paradigm as it is used in robotics research. Although simulation of sociality by a sex robot involves presenting a coherent personality, considering technical capability requires viewing it as an interactive multi-device, multicomponent system. Drawing from two illustrative consumer technology examples (Gatebox and Realbotix products), we identify access and actuation as key additional elements applicable to the interpretation of sex robots through the existing framework of simulation of sociality. What information is accessed and how it is then used to inform the system’s actions depends on the production and maintenance constraints of the system, and may be incidentally or intentionally obscure to a human observer. We relate this technical consideration to a psychological concept of intimacy as mutual self-disclosure and vulnerability over time. Our extension of existing work on simulation of social performance by a robot highlights how the technical and organizational constraints prevent mutual disclosure and vulnerability. The user discloses themselves to the hardware/software system—and through the system, to its creators, operators, and data-processing third parties—but neither the system nor the implicated organizations disclose their inner workings to the user. Interrogating a particular system’s capacity to simulate intimacy requires not only observing the immediate and apparent action but also considering the issues of access and actuation as they inform the possibility of mutual disclosure and vulnerability over time.


Human–robot interaction Social robots Sex robots Machine intimacy User research 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BerlinGermany
  2. 2.IT University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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