ZHONGSHAN, China (Reuters) - Amid Beijing’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, which is based in the southeastern province of Guangdong, 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. (Click reut.rs/2AawuDc to see a picture package of WMDOLL's factory in Guangdong)
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 and 50,000 yuan ($1,470 to $7,350), compared with their annual sales of 20,000 dolls.
The company hopes the AI dolls will eventually take off with overseas customers, including those in the United States - exports account for 80 percent of their sales, and half of their overseas shipments go to the United States.
Reporting by Thomas Suen and Aly Song in ZHONGSHAN, China and Min Zhang and Se Young Lee in BEIJING; Editing by Karishma Singh and Neil Fullick