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Will Porn Drive Mainstream Acceptance of VR, AR and Robots?

Probably if the traditional link between adult entertainment and technological progress still holds.

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While porn has run afoul of many a community’s moral standards, it has historically been on the best of terms with technology. Indeed, sex traditionally drives many early adapters. The world saw the first commercial film screening in 1895. By 1896, we had Coucher de la mariée, a short about a woman undressing on her wedding night. It also motivates companies to improve their products. For most of us, not having to take photos over to the Fotomat before we can see them is deeply convenient. For pornographers, however, this was a borderline necessity. (When taking snapshots that are technically illegal, you want to keep as much of the operation in-house as possible.)

Indeed, tech and sex were so intertwined it just made sense that for many years Las Vegas hosted the Consumer Electronics Show and the Adult Video News Adult Entertainment Expo simultaneously. When they went their separate ways, CNET published an article titled, “How will CES cope without porn stars?”

But lately, as with CES and AVN, there’s been a surprising gap between the two camps. Why?

Traditionally, technology and porn go hand because tech advances assist consumers with “getting [porn] easily,” said CNET Senior Editor Scott Stein, noting this is the case today with “online streaming porn” and was in the past with “videos and magazines.”

But what about the next level stuff, whether in terms of virtual reality (VR is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment a person can interact within an apparently real way using electronic equipment), augmented reality (AR takes VR one step further by seemingly projecting 3D experiences into the world around you), or even robots?

We’ll explore each of these, but for now, there are two reasons in general for the rift:

-Stein observed these technologies tend to involve “a lot of equipment,” which is often very expensive.

-Tech has recently been undercutting the adult industry instead of assisting it.

How Tech and Porn Helped Each Other. The Internet in general (and e-commerce in particular) owes a huge debt to pornography. Quite simply, it gave people a reason to go online and, once there, spend money. Suddenly pornographers needed to find out how to handle online credit card payments in ways both cost-effective and secure. This business approach spread and spread, to the point we now think nothing of online grocery shopping.

In recent years, though, the Internet has not been repaying the favor.

Traditionally, porn had two great allures as a business. The first was that it could be made cheaply. No one will ever know just how much money 1972’s Deep Throat generated—estimates range anywhere from $45 million to $600 million. But this is certain: with a budget of roughly $20,000, it earned a fortune. (Though, as The Deuce co-creator David Simon pointed out, not for its director or anyone actually in the picture, since the mob took all the money.)

The second was that people weren’t just willing but downright eager to pay for it. The result was that videocassettes and premium cable channels made it possible to get pornography from the privacy of home (or hotel room), provided you were willing to get out a credit card. In the mid-1980s, consumers happily shelled out about $70 for an XXX VHS. Keeping in mind that porn films could be made far more cheaply than a typical Hollywood production, the result was extraordinary profitability.

Then the Internet came along and suddenly there was even more money to be made.

Until there wasn’t.

The Break Up. Over time, the Internet decimated video and DVD sales. This is consistent with the evolution of the porn business or tech in general: adult movie theaters were goners from the moment people could watch XXX offerings at home. Traditionally, however, there was plenty of money to be made in new ways to offset those losses. Now, however, tube sites have slashed the industry’s profits—people reason with access to so much porn that’s free, why pay for the stuff that isn’t?

If past patterns hold, it’s time for adult entertainment to make the most of new technologies and rack up huge profits for themselves in a promising field while encouraging greater adoption in general.

Let’s take a closer look at those three possible areas of advancement:

Robots. Yes, it is now possible to acquire sex robots, which are available starting at about $2,000. At least currently, there are many drawbacks. For one, Stein noted it takes you “down a very specific road of specialization.” (After all, while some people doubtless bought VCRs to watch porn, they also used them to enjoy Ghostbusters and Caddyshack.)

Good luck finding an everyday use for one of these things that doesn’t traumatize your neighbors, as can be seen in the clip below of “Samantha the Sex Robot.”

 

A major benefit of most tech is that it’s malleable—this, however, is decidedly limited to a single function.

You’ve likely noticed another problem. Take another look at Samantha. (Or, better, block her out of your mind forever.) Quite simply, sex robots can drag you deep into the uncanny valley, where as humanoids get more and more human, they become insanely creepy. Since these products are intended to arouse users, that’s a significant glitch to overcome.

 

Augmented Reality. Blade Runner 2049 features a memorable scene when Ryan Gosling sets out to have sex with a prostitute who’s having another woman project herself onto her. This is in many ways the best-case scenario for sex and AR: the virtual and physical worlds combine to create a new experience.

But it should be noted this was successfully pulled off in a movie set in the distant future that boasts a budget of at least $150 million.

 

Stein observed the uncanny valley rules also apply here, whereas as things become more and more realistic we often get more and more unnerved: “Anything going wrong is going to be very uncomfortable.”

Virtual Reality. This may be where porn and tech get back in sync. “I have tried [adult] VR 360 video,” Stein said. (That’s where a view in every direction is recorded at the same time, shot using an omnidirectional camera or a collection of cameras to create an immersive experience.)

He added, “That works very well.” Based on the reaction of the first-time user below, that may be an understatement.

 

Stein noted that there will probably be growth in the number of 360 videos in general: “If you film with 360, you can now create a normal HD version.” (This is important because it lets a company avoid “wasting resources.”)

“Right now, the sales of VR headsets are very limited,” said Stein, which is why he thinks people currently “gravitate to mobile VR because it just requires your phone.”

Will the adult industry help create a surge in headset sales, which are then used for other purposes? Even if that doesn’t happen just yet, Stein noted the revolution may come when sex toys are synced up with the action, meaning you’ll both be visually surrounded and physically engaged.

Whether this horrifies or intrigues you, there’s no denying: You’ll feel something.