NSFW: This article may contain links to and descriptions or images of explicit sexual acts.
The phrase "artificial intelligence" conjures all sorts of ideas about a synthetic consciousness that knows us better than we know ourselves. But it's more often hollowly used as a buzzword, providing a little excitement to systems that just identify patterns. This pattern recognition has been, apparently, harnessed by the Autoblow AI, a device that claims to use AI to offer users the "perfect blowjob."
Autoblow was started back in 2008 with its first eponymous product that sought to mechanically simulate oral sex. Creator Brian Sloan went on to crowdfund backing for the Autoblow 2 in 2014, with additional campaigns for two more hardware revisions, the 2+ in 2016 and 2+XT in 2017. All of them blew past their initial targets, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, something that Sloan has repeated by crowdfunding a number of other toys through Indiegogo.
The fourth-generation Autoblow AI received more than half a million US dollars in backing, and now the first units are making their way to backers. It is unique enough that its internal workings have been patented, and it received plenty of coverage in the press before the device had even launched.
Viewers would mark, by dragging the mouse up and down a digital phallus, the rhythm of the action on screen.
The Autoblow and Autoblow 2 both looked like Fleshlight-esque tubes, albeit with thicker bodies to house the mechanics inside. The hardware housing the AI breaks this pattern, with a pear-shaped housing stretching around the main shaft to house the control mechanisms. It's also pretty big, measuring about 8.2in x 7in x 3in, closer in size to a games console than a discreet sex toy.
Along its narrowest edge you'll find four buttons: Pause, Increase Intensity, Decrease Intensity and a Play/Skip button. The last option lets you start the machine and cycle through the 10 different modes of usage. Beneath this is a volume bar that indicates both what setting you're using, and the intensity, and beneath that is a chunky on-off slider.
In a making-of documentary made by the company, we see the system was trained mostly by people. A group of people in Serbia were tasked with watching hours of clips on Pornhub while running a custom browser plugin. Controlled with a mouse, the viewers would drag the mouse up and down a digital phallus, the rhythm of the action on screen.
This data was fed into a deep learning algorithm to create a series of programs that matched the most commonly used oral sex patterns. The result was nine pre-programmed "blowjob" patterns, reportedly created by analyzing all of the data from the movies.
The patterns are titled things like "the full stroke," "teasing slow stroke" through to "fast edge" and "intense edge." These correspond both to the vertical length of the stroke and if you want the machine to prolong the experience by pausing every few seconds. You can set the intensity within each pattern, running from 1 through to 10, controlled by the buttons on the body.
The tenth setting is dubbed the "Full AI Experience" and combines all of the nine possible techniques and 10 possible intensities. So, it basically cycles through 90 different options, all at random, to offer what Sloan says is the missing ingredient from a sex robot; "surprise."
In order to use the Autoblow AI, you need to connect it to an outlet -- there is no battery -- and use water-based lubricant on the sleeve and yourself. When ready, you then insert yourself into the machine and activate it.
The pre-programmed settings are perfectly fun to use, especially at higher intensities when you can really feel them. Naturally, the AI setting does offer what Sloan promises, with variety at the heart of the pitch, rather than a rhythmic pumping. However, that human bodies are a rich and diverse bunch, and my experience will probably not reflect yours.
But the device isn't responding to your needs or modulating its actions intentionally, so much as flicking through a series of near-random options. The system is designed not to go from one extreme setting to another to avoid causing injury -- it won't simply bounce between its lightest setting and the heaviest unless it runs through a number of intermediate steps. It's also all very passive.
All electronic masturbators clank and whirr, because they use a lot of analog machinery to do their jobs. With the Autoblow AI, this is particularly distracting and unsexy, because it has a cooling fan inside like a beige tower PC from the '90s. The din, coupled with its size, means that there's not an elegant or discreet way to use this thing. If you're watching visual content on the TV, you may even need headphones to hear the dialog over the noise.
The development of high tech sex devices remains in its early stages. Through a combination of a lack of resources, stigma, the limits of the technology, or all three, these machines are practically from the stone age. Beyond that, these devices need to get better at providing us with the sensations we crave. Devices like Hot Octopuss' Pulse series explore how vibration can be used to induce pleasure in a very different way to this. Meanwhile, Kiiroo / Fleshlight's Launch works best as a way of simulating intercourse in a more active way than this.
Autoblow creator Sloan acknowledges the simplistic nature of most of these toys and says that we're "five to seven years" away from having a device that will suit our individual needs. In his example, the use of heart-rate data could be used to judge your pleasure levels and either prolong or speed up the session. But that's still a generation or two away, and in the meantime, this is what you're left with.
The Autoblow AI is available to pre-order on Autoblow's own site for $259.