Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Robotic Rectal Teaching Assistant

Keeping in mind the second most common cancer in men is prostatic adenocarcinoma, it should come as no surprise that men are not lining up to volunteer for medical training purposes, as the first step of a doctor’s diagnosis is inserting the index finger into the anus. Therefore, a group of scientists at Imperial College London developed a robotic rectum that helps train doctors and nurses to perform rectal examinations by accurately recreating the feel of a rectum, while providing computer feedback on their examination technique.

The Rectal Teaching Assistant (RTA) was presented at the Eurohaptics conference earlier this summer and is currently being adapted for gynecological exams, too. The prosthetic contains small robotic arms that apply pressure to the silicone rectum, to recreate the shape and feel of the back passage. At the same time the device is tracking the medical examiner’s finger position in real-time. A computer screen behind the device can display a 3D model of the rectum and prostate, allowing the doctor, with the aid of 3D glasses, to see the anatomy while they perform the examination.

Dr. Fernando Bello from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London said, “Because the examinations occur in the body, the trainer cannot see what the trainee is doing, and vice versa.” Other prosthetic rectums are available, including one from the US with pressure sensors, named Patrick. However according to Bello, none of these give such a realistic feel to trainees. Due to the intimate nature of the examination, one could argue the robotic device teaches the medical students a crash course in “professional intimacy”.

Robotic rectums are just the latest implementation of emerging technologies, paving the way to recreate realistic sensations in other fields such as teledildonics. While it might seem creepy at first, it wouldn’t hurt to get to the bottom of it.

Source: Imperial College London

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AliceX: Better Than Your Girlfriend

Now that Internet porn has found its way into virtual reality, it should come as no surprise that in the beginning of this month a VR “girlfriend experience” had launched. Offering 24-hours companionship to anyone with an Internet connection and a VR headset, the website takes their users into a virtual room where they sit face to face with a real woman—in real time. Introducing AliceX.

First off, Alice is not a real person, but rather a modeling agency for Phone Sex Operators (PSO) with a webcam pointed to their faces. While live VR porn often presents itself as the impartial VR version of a camgirl, AliceX stands out as the first self-declared VR girlfriend experience (GFE). The streaming service introduces high-end escorts performing elaborate relationships with clients that often includes sex, but predominantly focuses on the fantasy of actually dating a woman.

Virtual girlfriends are nothing new to the Japanese games market; industry giants such as Nintendo and Konami have published dating simulation games on various platforms since the 1980’s. During the Tokyo Game Show earlier this month, a mannequin embedded with touch sensing software was presented, allowing players to fondle and interact with the augmented anime character through real-touch feedback. Unfortunately, after concerns that the game was too erotic, a touching ban was imposed to the figurine.

Even though future developments in augmented affairs are paving the way to news forms of intimacy, these may as well be implicated in it. Simultaneously, spending too much time building a relationship with virtual girls could blur the line between real love and pleasure, leading to social isolation. In our age of cold intimacies—a term coined by Eva Illouz, describing a new emotional culture in late capitalism—it is important to remember that these services are profitable entities that probably don’t really care whether you have a girlfriend our not.

Source: Engadget

Hacking the Internet of Vibrating Things

Earlier this month a woman took her ‘smart’ vibrator to federal court, filing a class action lawsuit against Premium Sensual Lifestyle Products manufacturer Standard Innovations. The woman accused the company for collecting and transmitting her intimate data, including her email address and the vibration settings she used, without her consent.

In 2014, Standard Innovations enabled their “We-Vibe” vibrators to connect with smartphones by means of Bluetooth, “allowing couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart.” This simultaneously enabled sexual partners to handle one another’s product at a distance. However, at the 2016 DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, two researchers revealed flaws in the software that controls the device, making it possible to remotely seize control of the vibrator and activate it at will.

The researchers—known as followr and g0ldfisk—discovered besides the amount of data transmitted back to the manufacturer, the temperature of the device was monitored and broadcasted in real-time. In a statement, Standard Innovations said the collected data is solely being used for “diagnostic purposes”. Nevertheless, the streaming of this data presents a number of risks to users. According to followr, “A lot of people in the past have said it’s not really a serious issue, but if you come back to the fact that we’re talking about people, unwanted activation of a vibrator is potentially sexual assault.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) promised connectivity to a broad variety of objects, ranging from health innovations to consumer electronics including (sex) toys; basically any object, person or animal could be assigned an IP address and transfer data over a network. While companies’ ability to collect user information to store and sell is nothing new, the We-Vibe revelation demonstrates this could lead to forms of virtual rape.

As Neil Gross so perfectly envisioned the IoT in 1999, he stated, “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” His claim forecasted future technologies to ultimate precision, in which vibration modes like PULSE, WAVE and CHA CHA CHA are sensations you don’t necessarily share with a third party. Welcome to the Internet of Vibrating Things.

Sources: Vocativ, The Guardian

In Defense of the Eggplant

After the cucumber and the banana, there is a new phallic fruit in town. The eggplant emoji, also known as aubergine, was added to the official Unicode 6.0 emoji set in 2010. The flourishing ‘dictionary’ of 1.851 ideograms depicts a broad range of small digital icons to boost text messages and is gradually evolving into a parallel visual language of its own, where suggested meanings are up for grabs.

Emoji became available in 1999 in Japan with the aim to popularize pagers among teenagers. Nearly a decade before the launch of the Apple App Store, designer Shigetaka Kurita was working on his original lexicon of characters while simultaneously developing i-mode, which became the world’s first leading mobile Internet platform. This resulted in a set of 176 pictographic images that laid the foundation for emoji today. To put this in context, in 2015, for the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries declared the so-called Face with Tears of Joy emoji ‘word’ of the year.

Emoji became a vital part of our daily conversations, but there is a character in particular that stood out ever since its release, the solanum melongena. The eggplant symbol portrays a long, slender, oblong species of the Japanese eggplant, which is considered a token of luck when appearing during Hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year. Unfortunately, the humble concept behind the fruit had turned into a dark fantasy, as the purple nightshade was crudely adopted into sexually loaded emoji-lingo. Millennials – mainly based in the US – are using the symbol to represent male genitalia or as carnal innuendo, raising concerns towards non-consensual communication.

A recent study investigated the emoji use per country. The report found that along a chicken leg, a skull, and lipstick, the eggplant scored highest in the US. While there are different ways to interpret emoji meanings, we can never ensure the fruit is solely being sent for exchanging recipes. So, how did US millennials become so obsessed with the phallic fruit?

Before Emoji (BE), sex education in the US was taught under the pretense of botany. Since the 1950s (or 49 BE) the reproduction of plants was carefully taught, hoping the students would comprehend the metaphor. Since the 1980s (or 19 BE) the banana and the cucumber were introduced to the educational program, these phallic stand-ins were supposed to teach adolescents how to work a prophylactic. However, at the present moment sex education is lacking. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidelines for teaching students about sex, the curriculum is far worse in reality. Resulting in a society that assigns specific meanings to digital icons.

Due to the carnal usage of the pictogram under the hashtag #eggplantfriday, this has led to Instagram banning the icon from its search algorithm. According to CNN: “A spokesman for Instagram said the eggplant emoji was made unsearchable because it was ‘consistently associated’ with photos or videos that violate the social network’s community standards.” Internet users around the world responded with the hashtag #freetheeggplant, modeled after the #freethenipple campaign that advocated gender equality.

Now that the aubergine had turned into a political weapon and gained cult status being the forbidden fruit of the web, all we can do is to defend its status and wait for the next phallic fruit to come around.

Sources: Know Your Meme, EmojipediaUnicode, The Verge

This article is part of the Forbidden Fruit series and was originally published on Next Nature Network.