This is Episode 6 of Real Future, Fusion’s documentary series about technology and society. More episodes available at realfuture.tv.
Matt McMullen is not a normal tech entrepreneur. He doesn't wear hoodies or talk about shipping code, he doesn't work in an airy industrial loft in San Francisco, and he's never raised venture capital from a firm on Sand Hill Road.
But from his factory in San Marcos, California, McMullen has spent the last two decades working on a project that could change human interactions as much as any social networking app or biotech breakthrough.
McMullen is the founder and CEO of Abyss Creations, maker of the RealDoll, a hyper-realistic silicone sex doll. These dolls, which sell for upwards of $5,000 apiece and are available in a multitude of different shapes, colors, and sizes (link NSFW), have made McMullen piles of money, gotten him tons of press coverage, and made him a well-known figure in the adult entertainment world.
But McMullen's latest project is ambitious, even by Silicon Valley standards. He's trying to animate his dolls, by applying the latest principles in artificial intelligence and machine to their lifeless silicone forms. Ultimately, he wants these dolls to have customizable personalities, and to be able to talk to their owners, in romantic and entertaining ways. He's trying to build robots capable of being loved by humans, not just having sex with them.
There is still plenty of distance between today's AI capabilities and the sci-fi fantasy of a talking, emoting robot lover. But McMullen's audacious experiment is one of the most compelling examples of someone trying to narrow that gap. And if McMullen succeeds, his AI-enhanced RealDolls could transform the way we live and love forever.
In this episode of Real Future, Cara Santa Maria goes to the RealDoll headquarters to check on the status of McMullen's quixotic project, and talk to a potential customer who is looking for a new type of machine-assisted love.
To be notified about new episodes of Real Future, like the show on Facebook, or subscribe to the Real Future newsletter below.
Cara Santa Maria is a science and technology journalist, podcast host, Emmy-winning TV reporter, and a co-host of Real Future.