what the asia adult expo taught me this year
So this year I wasn’t a newbie…you might remember that last year I had an eye opening experience with VR and long-distance sex tech at the Asia Adult Expo. Don’t get too excited, this is a B2B industry event for adult entertainment. And again this year it was like a paperclip manufacturers’ convention where the booths are pretty boring looking and materials and MOQs are the hot topics.
I’m going to repeat myself a little because it’s still true…probably always will be. The porn industry has been driving technology since the get go. Maybe more than space travel. We like sex and our drive to consume it is a genetic imperative…more than a little money and thought gets thrown in this direction (Did porn invent the internet? Discuss.)
But this year what I noticed is that VR is now mainstream, dolls are even better so creativity and marketing is turning more toward AI and dealing with some of the other societal issues our planet is facing. Aging, disability and gender imbalance is making a basic right harder to get for some.
Yes, for these vendors it’s a market opportunity. They aren’t charitable organizations! But hey, you probably aren’t either. So it’s interesting to see how product development and market segmentation is happening in a cutting edge industry.
In case you doubted how VHS, DVDs and now VR technology is driven forward. I’m sad to say searches for “teen porn” have been consistent and higher than these by far over the same period. But don’t worry, “Game of Thrones” dwarfs all of these.
Making the Connection
OK, let’s get into the Uncanny Valley. This describes that awkward moment when you realize something that looks alllllmost human…isn’t. A little less human is nice. Indistinguishable from human is nice again. But we are in the slightly icky Valley just at the moment. You can probably tell when that customer service phone assistant isn’t real (or can you???)
There is obviously a market segment that wants an emotional connection that it isn’t finding. Whether that’s sexual expression with a sexuloid or simply assisted shopping to get what you want faster. And the drive to attain that connection can be high – these Realdoll lovelies cost around USD10,000 each without an AI inside! The Expo was chokablock with dolls of all sorts and none cheap. But they do seem to follow some trends – almost all of them aim at looking very interesting but decidedly not human.
While we can dwell on the unhealthy aspects of focusing your attention on a non-human “partner,” it raises questions you product developers and customer service programmers should consider.
- How can we build something that provides a genuine connection or service and takes advantage of AI / natural language without causing unease?
- How can we streamline our business practices with AI while keeping customers engaged with our brand at a meaningful level?
Niche Segments, That Aren’t Really Niche
Teledildonics is exciting and slightly terrifying. How can we responsibly create products that interact with us on a physical level in a safe way? The Foundation for Responsible Robotics just produced a great report Our Sexual Future With Robots (check them out as Hong Kong’s own Hanson Robotics founder is on the board!) The report discusses many difficult issues such as the perception of gender roles and effects on sexual crimes.
The FRR report also spends some time on the idea of therapeutic sex robots for the elderly and disabled. At the moment there is very little empirical evidence about human or robotic assisted sex with these two under-served populations. And that is precisely why I think the lucrative adult industry has their beady eyes on them…did you say huge and growing under-served market segment? Perhaps we can think about it in a more benign sense of doing social good while making a profit. Or you could just think of it as serving customers!
- How much time in your business thinking do you spend on these large populations?
- What does accessibility mean in your business context? Is it usable by someone with reduced mobility?
- Do you think, with such large numbers of population entering these segments, that they will not have capital to spend on your product?
My guess is you haven’t spent much time thinking about it. Humans don’t lose their basic urges when they bodies lose some abilities. Let me demonstrate…
No matter what you think about adult entertainment, they know a thing or two about what’s around the bend and where consumer’s money will flow. When you think about who your service is for, don’t forget about these meaningful populations and their desire to have access to whatever it is you are providing.
It’s time to say a little about the actual industry of porn. There is good porn and there is bad porn. I do not advocate anything that harms the rights and judgement of our fellow beings. On the other hand, we, as a species, are at least several thousand years away from not being interested in sex any more. Be aware of what you consume.
If you see anything involving children – report it immediately to the Internet Watch Foundation.
While I don’t agree with everything they say, Fight the New Drug has some interesting points to make – this is maybe the most important.