A starry-eyed young lad like many of my peers, I often dreamed of the almost tangible hi-tech spacefaring future oft-touted in the fictional literature of my childhood.

In that future, things would be different. Things would be easier. Robots would do all the work. Computers would think for us. We’d live in space and float freely without a care.

We wouldn’t even have to do our homework!

Oh, the innocence of youth…

(sigh)

Of course things turned out somewhat differently than expected. We lost our passion for space, but we gained the Internet. Flying cars and floating cities hit the backburner, but we have pocket-sized computers that make the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy seem a mere toy. As much as we escapists hoped it would happen, virtual reality never really quite took off.

But maybe that will change now that we have Teledildonics.

Wait… What?

That’s right. You heard me.

Teledildonics.

For those unaware, the term “Teledildonics” was coined in 1975 by Ted Nelson.

That’s right, the same guy who coined “Hypertext” and “Hypermedia”, terms which underpin the very fabric of the Internet, also came up with “Teledildonics”.

Coming from such a visionary, that’s a hard thing to ignore.

Though the etymology of the word “Dildo” is unclear, anyone with a technological bent or an interest in Latin knows that “Tele” means “Distant.” So it’s not much of a stretch (pun not intended) to discern the meaning of Teledildonics.

It’s basically sex-at-a-distance.

At its most fundamental, the term encompasses devices designed to accommodate the sexual needs of men and women, both to stimulate a remote partner and receive reciprocal input in a variety of ways, with the input to the stimulating device controlled by another person.

Early attempts were crude but effective — hydraulic pistons, lubricated belts and simple controls for speed and vigour.

Step 1. Buy lawnmower…

Flash forward to more modern technology where it’s now becoming possible for the slightest touches to be transmitted almost instantly anywhere in the world. It gives a whole new definition to the term “lag”, and the sense of a human presence is stronger than ever before.

Strap on a VR headset and you’re almost there.

At first glance one could write off these developments as the mere playthings of sad lonely perverts seeking a cheap thrill in their otherwise sad and socially impoverished lives. Indeed that’s the reaction of most people when first exposed to the concept, and I don’t doubt that a small portion of the target demographic fits within these bounds.

However beyond this, the realms of possibility that Teledildonics on the modern Internet opens up are startling.

One can already imagine a cornucopia of weird and wondrous configurations, givers and receivers networked in a variety of fashions, one-on-one, daisy chained or in parallel. Broadcast intercourse. You could join global leaderboards of sexual practitioners rated by prowess in their areas of expertise. A new angle could be added to online dating. The pre-date “preview” experience could determine your chances of actual human contact with a potential mate. Anonymous interaction will be available at one of humanity’s most intimate levels which reaches beyond the confines of race, color, gender and language.

Admittedly, like everything in tech it could be a passing fad, but whenever sex is involved there’s a good chance that it will be the multi-billion dollar industry of the future, perhaps even democratising sex-at-a-distance and seriously challenging the giants of pornography with huge opportunities for disruptive capitalism. We’ve already reached a point in history where virtual reality porn has its own parody videos:

So let’s explore.

Pornography was by far the biggest source of traffic consumption on the internet, surpassed only very recently by social networking.

From the dark corners of the early web, thousands of niche providers rose to suit every taste and fetish, arguably mostly harmless and consensual (for the most part). Arguably, that is, if the conjunction of borderline poverty with offerings of cash could be considered to be informed and free consent. Some of these early adopters rose to become business giants, serving the “needs” of the world’s sexually impoverished on a daily basis.

Now with virtual reality experiencing a second renaissance, it’s not difficult to imagine a horde of consumers eager to experience the next generation of self-gratification.

Imagine, in the comfort of your own recliner, being pleasured by the most beautiful person you could imagine, their hair caressing your shoulders as they kiss your neck, their hands working their magic in pleasant and arousing ways, responding directly to your movements and voice because thanks to VR and Teledildonics you’re there with them, virtually in the same room together.

Beyond Virtual Reality, Imagine being in a surreal fantasy scene with visuals and sensations never before felt by humankind. Virtual Unreality.

Who would ever dare venture a relationship in-person again, with all the personal emotional risk that entails?

“At first it felt surreal and disconnected, but I timed myself to get off at the same time she did,” said this person, who preferred to remain anonymous. “And suddenly, I came, and we had that moment of [exhausted breathing sounds]. She was breathing at the same time. And then she looked me in the eye and leaned in and said, ‘I love you, baby.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that was amazing.’ And then I realised I’d only had that experience with a few girlfriends in my life. That’s when I realised this shit is crazy. To connect with a human you need so many things, and this achieved it almost immediately. This girl was there with me, and she recognised me, and she appreciated me.

The dark side…

Of course, wherever people are involved, there’s bound to be a darker side.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the mainstream, the global explosion in demand for online adult content also led to the growth of a dark underbelly that includes human trafficking, rape, abuse and child exploitation. Look closely, bruises are a common sight, even in “classy” porn. Raised skin from prolonged slapping and tear-streaked makeup are but a click away on most popular porn websites. Maybe she “works hard”, maybe she “loves it”, or maybe she’s being held captive and only sees the light of day when her tormentors decide to take another scene. Maybe those “moans of pleasure” were dubbed over her screams of agony. Or is it just another “niche” with paid, consenting, professional actors? Some of the material out there is so borderline, so convincing, it’s hard to tell the difference.

The segments of society that exploit and torment the vulnerable for personal profit have always existed of course, it’s not a latent feature of technology. It can be argued that because the internet brings it all much closer to home and exposes the problem to the cold light of day that more gets done about it. Compared to recent centuries, we’re living in an age of enlightenment.

If we’re to become comfortable with Teledildonics finding a home in ours in the near future, it’s probably apt to wonder at the social impact for better or worse, and to consider drawing new boundaries of what is and is not acceptable.

Chatroulette, for the uninitiated, is a service that sets up random webcam chats with people from around the world.

Sounds pretty innocent, right?

Unfortunately it gained quite a reputation because instead of a random chat, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be matched with a dude with his penis hanging out, casually masturbating. Sure, by and large you’ll be able to find someone who wants to chat, but inevitably within a few clicks of the mouse you’ll end up with a facefull of man-meat.

It’s such a well-known phenomenon that people have even sung songs about it:

Would these men hang their penises out at home around their families, parents, kids and friends?

Probably not.

There’s something in this sense of being anonymous, of being a single meaningless individual in a planet of billions, unidentifiable and without a plausible chance of repercussion, that seems to encourage certain people to throw aside social mores and, essentially, troll the internet for quick thrills. Most people won’t behave badly, but like they say it only takes a few rotten eggs.

Flash forward to a world with ubiquitous Teledildonics and VR.

You’re making out with your perfect girl, kissing her full and luscious red lips, nibbling the nape of her neck, leaving a trail of lovebites over her torso and lower belly… You feel yourself inside her, every inch. You’re determined to show this woman, albeit a stranger, every extent of your passionate talents.

But on the other end of the line, a sex troll is getting his kicks watching his dogs lick peanut butter off the receiver, or worse.

While I suspect the vast majority of online sexual experimentation with Virtual Reality and Teledildonics will be innocent and consensual, I predict that unintentional Telehomosexuality and Telebestiality, intentional or otherwise, will become something that we as a species will have to deal with sooner than any of us ever imagined. Disturbingly, even “Telerape” where neither party consented to the act is becoming a distinct technological possibility.

Even today you can download “replays” of sexual touches to be played back via certain Teledildonic devices. Does this make an individual’s sexual performance a form of intellectual property? Could someone patent a formula for the perfect sequence of rhythm and pressure? Could devious individuals devise algorithms to cause deliberate injury?

This is not the future I expected as a youth when reading Herbert and Asimov, and yet here we are.

It’s surreal.

Where to from here?

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