CHINA Chinese firm hopes sex dolls with artificial intelligence will steal hearts of international consumers

CHINA

Chinese firm hopes sex dolls with artificial intelligence will steal hearts of international consumers

Global Times

04:16, August 20, 2018

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Workers check the circuits of a sex doll at the WMDOLL factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province in July. (Photo: VCG)

Amid China's push to turn the country into an artificial intelligence (AI) powerhouse and embed the technology in all facets of life, some Chinese entrepreneurs are taking the expertise to a new frontier: sex dolls.

WMDOLL, one of China's biggest sex doll makers, based in Zhongshan, South China's Guangdong Province, launched what it calls AI-powered dolls at end of 2016 that offer features ranging from simple conversation to moving eyes, arms and torsos. 

Customers can personalize their dolls by choosing various appearance options including height, hairstyle and eye color. The factory has over 200 employees to work on the dolls, which are all handmade. Each requires the cooperation of at least five workers. 

AI features on the dolls are still very basic. They can answer questions but cannot hold longer conversations. The doll uses vocabulary by connecting to a database supported by Chinese tech giant Baidu.

The firm admits improving the features has been difficult partly because experts aren't interested in putting much effort into developing AI technology for adult products.

"Of course we're not expecting to make our AI dolls that human-like, after all we're just making adult products," said Liu Ding, WMDOLL product manager. "But we will surely add more advanced technologies... for example making the limbs move more naturally."

WMDOLL says it has sold more than 20 of the AI dolls, which are priced between 10,000 yuan ($1,455) and 50,000 yuan, compared with their annual sales of 20,000 regular non-AI dolls. The latter usually cost several thousand yuan each, according to the firm's official webpage that introduces its products in 11 foreign languages. 

Besides female dolls, about 1 percent of all the dolls at the firm are male, which are mostly bought by male consumers.

The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the US. Exports account for 80 percent of the company's sales, and half of overseas shipments go to the US.

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