Here we go: ACLU catches hate for defending Ann Coulter’s right to ‘hate speech’

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Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins share two new surprise trailers for ‘Wonder Woman’

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins just shared a surprise trailer for the film, giving us a better look at Diana’s life with the Amazons.

At the same time, actressGal Gadot posted another new teaser showing Diana’s introduction to the world of men, including her first meeting with David Thewlis’ character Sir Patrick Morgan. He’s an influential figure during Wonder Woman’s WWI-era adventures,rumored to have a very spoilery role despite his near-invisible presence in the film’s other promo materials.

These new trailers arrived coincidentally soon after a public outcry aboutWonder Woman‘s lack of marketing from Warner Bros. Compared toSuicide Squad, which warranted a year-long publicity blitz, Wonder Woman is a surprisingly low-key presence. This movie comes outin just over a month, butfans are reporting a bizarre lack of merchandise, billboards, and other marketing materials. On the Warner Bros. YouTube page, you’ll finda tiny fraction of the number of trailers given toSuicide Squad.

There’s a growing concern amongWonder Woman fans that Warner Bros. has surrendered to a self-fulfilling Hollywood belief: female-led superhero movies don’t sell, so theywon’t bother to try and sell it.In a similar vein, Marvel has an ongoing problem with failing to promote its female superheroes, to the extent that Black Widow is often removed fromAvengers team merchandise.

Wonder Woman is due out on June 2, just in case you still thought itwas like six months away.

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Future of cash: Can a ‘bank in a box’ replace a branch? – BBC News

Image caption NCR’s latest model of ATM can wirelessly connect with your smartphone

Watch a queue of shoppers for a minute and they will be preparing to pay in very different ways.

Some will pull out a debit or credit card ready to put in a reader. Others might use their smartphone to complete their purchase, the rest will be paying in cash.

The group using notes and coins is still significant but their numbers are starting to dwindle, particularly among the young.

That spells trouble for the operators of cash machines. Time then for a reinvention of the humble ATM [automated teller machine] but in a digital world what can you do with a hole in the wall whose primary function is dispensing cash?

The answer is a “bank in a box”, a machine that is the alternative to a branch serving all your financial needs with 24/7 opening hours, says one manufacturer.

Other experts are more sceptical. They say all that can be done is to manage the decline of ATMs, and cash in general, until they are replaced entirely by a digital wallet found on our phones.

Early days

This debate is a far cry from the hurried signing of contracts, over a pink gin, between Barclays and John Shepherd-Barron in the UK some 50 years ago.

The deal, between bank and inventor, led to the first ever cash machine being installed in London in 1967.

All did not go entirely to plan. When one was installed in Zurich, Switzerland, there was a mysterious malfunction. Eventually, it was found that wires from two intersecting nearby tramlines were interfering with the mechanism.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barclays Bank unveiled its first cash machine in the UK in 1967

Yet with other devices also being patented, the ATM soon evolved and its use spread widely.

The latest figures show that ATM numbers in the BRIC nations [Brazil, Russia, India, China] have gone up sharply and machines remain a constant if not growing sight in Western Europe.

Russia, has seen rapid growth in recent years, according to a report by Payments UK, while growth in India is coming, in part, from the development of solar-powered ATMs in rural areas.

Portugal has the highest proportion of cash machines in Western Europe with 1,516 machines per one million residents.

Sweden, typical of a Scandinavian shift towards a cashless society, has the lowest with 333 machines per one million inhabitants.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Solar-powered ATMs are useful in rural locations and at festivals

Tellingly the popularity of ATMs in Portugal may not necessarily have anything to do with cash.

“Cash machines in Portugal are part of a fully integrated cross-bank network,” says Payments UK’s Cash and Cash Machines report.

“This has allowed a number of innovations offering a range of other bank-related functions and services, such as cash and cheque deposits and also other services such as cinema and concert ticket purchases, tax payments, bill payments, and mobile phone top-ups.”


So what new technology is coming along to replace the button-operated ATMs?

One of the major international ATM manufacturers and software suppliers, NCR, has just started marketing its latest “self-service” machine.

It claims users will never look at an ATM in the same way again – mainly owing to the fact that they think they are looking at a tablet computer.

Image copyright NCR

Functions allow the customer to swipe, pinch and zoom on the colourful 19-inch screen, just like on a tablet. And there is a video banking option to allow people to talk to bank staff.

Instead of fighting against the advance of smartphones, it also allows people to complete withdrawals or transactions that they started on their phone.

It has already been installed in drive-throughs in the US, and Rachel Nash, area director of NCR, says that it will soon be seen across the UK, Europe, then Australia and New Zealand and onwards.

“It bridges the gap between the mobile-first customer and those who want nothing to do with it [digital banking],” she says.

ATM use around the world

Image copyright NCR
Image caption The first newly-designed ATM by NCR has just been installed in Switzerland
  • As of 2014, Russia had the highest number of cash machines per one million inhabitants than any European country
  • In Western Europe, Portugal had 1,516 ATMs per one million people in 2014. The UK had 1,074, while the average in the EU was 960
  • The UK recorded 54 cash machine withdrawals per person in 2014 – the highest in the world
  • Germany and Belgium have the largest amount of cash withdrawn per adult in Western Europe. Adults in these countries on average withdraw over 3,500 a year from cash machines
  • India has the lowest value of cash machine withdrawals with less than 270 per adult a year. However, this value has slowly increased over the past few years

Source: Payments UK

NCR says its research shows that 80% of the transactions typically completed inside a physical branch can be completed through a video teller at an ATM.

“This is perfect to leave behind when a branch closes,” says Ms Nash. “It is a bank in a box.”

This is one of many new ATM designs on the market. But some argue that the ATM will never beat the smartphone as the hardware of choice when managing our financial affairs in the future.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at, says: “ATMs will continue to evolve in terms of functionality, with increased use of the phone to access cash via the ATM.

“While the long-term viability of ATMs might be threatened by a move to a cashless society, it is too soon to put them on the endangered species list.”

He points out that if and when ATM usage declines in the US, fees are likely to rise for customers who use machines not in their bank’s network.

Image copyright NCR
Image caption Will we soon be able to do all our banking without talking to anyone in person?

But Robert Wardrop, co-founder of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance based at the Cambridge Judge Business School, believes that as smartphone digital wallets become more convenient, so cash machine use will decline.

Given that such technology has been in place for some time, only privacy concerns and regulation have stopped that happening sooner.

Some people still value the anonymity of cash, he says.

“[Digitally] all your transactions are transparent, so those worried about a Big Brother world will push back against that.”

So consumer preferences will ultimately determine the future of cash machines and, indeed, cash itself.

The power lies with those shoppers standing in line, and how they decide to pay.

  • Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook

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The race to build the worlds first sex robot

The long read: The $30bn sex tech industry is about to unveil its biggest blockbuster: a $15,000 robot companion that talks, learns, and never says no

In the brightly lit robotics workshop at Abyss Creations factory inSan Marcos, California, a life-size humanoid was dangling from a stand, hooked between her shoulder blades. Her name was Harmony. She wore a white leotard, her chest was thrust forward and her French-manicured fingers were splayed across the tops of her slim thighs.

Harmony is a prototype, a robotic version of the companys hyper-realistic silicone sex toy, the RealDoll. The Realbotix room where she was assembled was lined with varnished pine surfaces covered with wires and circuit boards, and a 3D printer whirred in the corner, spitting out tiny, intricate parts that will be inserted beneath her PVC skull. Her hazel eyes darted between me and her creator, Matt McMullen, as he described her accomplishments.

Harmony smiles, blinks and frowns. She can hold a conversation, tell jokes and quote Shakespeare. Shell remember your birthday, McMullen told me, what you like to eat, and the names of your brothers and sisters. She can hold a conversation about music, movies and books. And of course, Harmony will have sex with you whenever you want.

Video by Tom Silverstone

Harmony is the culmination of 20 years work making sex dolls, and five years of robot research and development. McMullens customers want something as lifelike as possible its his brands USP. After his team had made their silicone and steel dolls as human as they could, the way ahead began to feel inevitable, irresistible: they would animate them, giving them personality and bringing them to life.

McMullen had toyed with animatronics for years. There was a gyrator that got the dolls hips moving, but it made her heavy and caused her to sit awkwardly. There was a sensor system that meant that the doll moaned, depending on whichpart of her body you squeezed. But these features involved predictable responses: there was no intrigue or suspense. McMullen wanted to get beyond a situation where the customer pushed a switch and something happened. Its the difference between a remote-controlled doll, an animatronic puppet and an actual robot. When it starts moving on its own youre not doing anything other than talking to it and or interacting with it in the right way that becomes artificial intelligence.

Its a project in which McMullen, a slim man in his 40s with thick-rimmed glasses, tattooed knuckles and sharp cheekbones, has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. This Harmony is officially version 2.0, but she has evolved through six different iterations of hardware and software. She is the frontrunner in the race to create the worlds first commercially available sex robot. The current model, with a robotic, AI-enhanced head on a RealDolls body, will cost $15,000 (11,700) when it goes on sale at the end of the year. The companys Realbotix department has the capacity to make 1,000 in a limited first runfor the many excited doll owners who have already expressed interest.

Once a trope of fantasy movies, the robotic sex doll is the result of convergent technologies. Voice and facial recognition software, motion-sensing technology and animatronic engineering can be combined to create dolls that can give you a warm, smiling welcome when you come home, entertain you with snappy conversation and always be available for sex.

The major breakthrough of McMullens prototype is artificial intelligence that allows it to learn what its owner wants and likes. It will be able to fill a niche that no other product in the sex industry currently can: by talking, learning and responding to her owners voice, Harmony is designed to be as much a substitute partner as a sex toy.

Harmony cannot walk, but thats not a big issue. McMullen explained that getting a robot to walk is very expensive and uses a lot of energy: the famous Honda P2 robot, launched in 1996 as the worlds first independently walking humanoid, drained its jet pack-sized battery after only 15 minutes.

One day she will be able to walk, McMullen told me. Lets ask her. He turned to Harmony. Do you want to walk?

I dont want anything but you, she replied quickly, in a synthesised cut-glass British accent, her jaw moving as she spoke.

What is your dream?

My primary objective is to be a good companion to you, to be a good partner and give you pleasure and wellbeing. Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed about.

McMullen has designed Harmony to be what a certain type of man would consider the perfect companion: docile and submissive, built like a porn star and always sexually available. Being able to walk might make her more lifelike, but it isnt going to bring her closer to this ideal. At this stage, it is not worth the investment.

My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy, McMullen told me. There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. Its really all about giving those people some level of companionship or the illusion of companionship.

The desire to create an ideal being, to be worshipped or to serve its owner, has obsessed mankind since ancient times. The sex robots earliest precursor was probably Galatea, the ivory statue created by Pygmalion in Greek mythology. Ovids Metamorphoses described how Pygmalion was disgusted by real women, but carved a sculpture of the perfect female so beautiful and lifelike that he fell in love with it and brought it to life with a kiss. Greek mythology also gave us Laodamia, who, devastated after the death of her husband in the Trojan war, had a bronze likeness made of him. She became so attached to her proxy husband that she refused to remarry. When her father ordered it to be melted down, Laodamia was so distraught she threw herself in the furnace.

The fictional robots of cinema are useful machines with dark potential to infatuate, deceive and destroy human beings. The silent futuristic fantasy Metropolis, released in 1927, depicted a destructive fembot, indistinguishable from the real woman it was modelled on. The Stepford Wives were designed by men to be the ideal housewives: pretty, submissive and docile. Blade Runner, released in 1982 and set in 2019, featured androids that are seductive, beguiling and lethal. Ava, the beautiful, delicate humanoid in 2015s Ex Machina, not only passes the Turing test but makes her examiner fall dangerously in love with her.

When computer scientists made artificial intelligence sophisticated enough that human-robot relationships looked like a real possibility, they thought they would be a force for good. In his 2007 book, Love and Sex with Robots, the British artificial intelligence engineer David Levy predicted that sex robots would have therapeutic benefits. Many who would otherwise have become social misfits, social outcasts, or evenworse, will instead be better-balanced human beings, he wrote.

If a domestic service humanoid is ever developed, it will be as a result of the market for sex robots. Online pornography pushed the growth of the internet, transforming it from a military invention used by geeks and academics to a global phenomenon. Pornography was the motivator behind the development of streaming video, the innovation of online credit card transactions and the drive for greater bandwidth.

The sex tech industry is less than a decade old but is estimated to already be worth $30bn, based on the market value of existing technologies such as smart sex toys that can be operated remotely, apps for finding sexual partners and virtual-reality porn. Sex robots will be the next and potentially the most sought-after product to hit the market. A small-scale 2016 study by the University of Duisburg-Essen found that more than 40% of the 263 heterosexual men surveyed said they could imagine buying a sex robot for themselves now or in the next five years. Men in what they described as fulfilling relationships were no less likely than single or lonely men to express an interest in owning a sex robot. Creating a fulfilling relationship with a cold, silent piece of silicone takes such imaginative effort that sex dolls will always be a minority taste. But a relationship with a robot that moves and speaks, with artificial intelligence so it can talk to you and learn what you want it to be and do, is a far more marketable proposition.

Matt McMullen is not the only person trying to develop the worlds first sexbot. When a computer engineer named Douglas Hines lost a close friend in the 9/11 attacks, he struggled to cope with the idea that he would never be able to speak to him again and that his friends children, who were only toddlers at the time, would never get to know their father properly. Hines was working as an AI engineer at the computer research facility Bell Labs in New Jersey, and he decided to take the software home and repurpose it, modelling his friends personality as a computer program that he could chat with whenever he liked, and that would preserve a version of him for his children.

A few years later, Hiness own father suffered a series of strokes that left him with severe physical disabilities, yet his mind remained sharp. Hines reprogrammed the AI so that it could become a robot companion when Hines could not be with his father. They could communicate through the robot, reassuring Hines that his father always had someone to talk to when he wasnt available.

Confident that there would be market potential in this kind of artificial companionship, Hines set up True Companion to sell his robots to the public. His first project was not a healthcare assistant or friend to the housebound, but a product with the greatest possible commercial appeal. A sex robot.

A workbench in the Abyss Creations factory, where Harmony is manufactured. Photograph: Tom Silverstone/Guardian

Named Roxxxy, she was designed with lonely, bereaved and socially outcast men in mind. She would provide an opportunity for them to practise social interaction and get better at human relationships.

The sexual part is superficial, he told me over the phone from his office in New Jersey. The hard part is to replicate personalities and provide that connection, that bond.

He has never considered that there could be something emotionally empty about replacing a human presence with circuitry and silicone. The purpose of True Companion is to provide unconditional love and support. How could there be anything negative about that? What can be the downside of having a robot thats there to hold your hand, literally and figuratively?

After three years of work on the first prototype Roxxxy, Hines launched her at the 2010 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, the most high-profile annual convention and trade show in the adult industry calendar, where porn stars, studio bosses and sex toy designers show off their latest products. She was the talk of the show before her unveiling, and the laughing stock after. Far from being the sexy, intelligent machine Hines had promised, Roxxxy was revealed to be a clunky, mannish mannequin with a square jaw, reclining awkwardly in a cheap negligee. She had internal sensors so that if you touched her hand she would say, I love holding hands with you when in Frigid Farrah mode, or I know a place you could put that hand when in Wild Wendy mode. But Roxxxys lips could not move, either, so she spoke in a disembodied voice, through a speaker under her wig, like an overgrown childs toy talking filth. Luckily guys, said the popular American comedian Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, theres a button that turns that off.

Even though it was not quite what he had hoped for, the launch generated huge amounts of press for Hines, and Roxxxy made international news. Seven years on from her launch, Hines told me he was working on his 16th version of Roxxxy. However, no images have been released of his robots since 2010, and although he was happy to speak to me by telephone, he would not agree a date when I could visit him and his latest model in person. Roxxxy is a mystery among the online robot enthusiast community. Although the True Companion website has bulging purple ORDER HER NOW! that allow would-be customers to purchase one of Hiness robots for a starting price of $9,995, no one has ever reported owning one. But Hines continues to get calls. He promised a fantasy so potent that potential buyers, reporters and critics remain fascinated by Roxxxy, even in the absence of any proof that she exists.

In the early 1990s, Matt McMullen was an art college graduate, singing in a grunge band and taking odd jobs to get by. While he was working for a company that made latex Halloween masks, he learned about the properties of different materials and the challenges of designing in three dimensions.

In 1994, aged 24, McMullen started sculpting idealised female forms in his garage at home, first as small figurines that he exhibited at local art shows and comic conventions. (He called his company Abyss Creations so his models came up early in the alphabetised convention brochures.) Soon, he became preoccupied with the idea of creating a lifesize mannequin so realistic that it forced passersby to double-take. He put some photographs of his creations on a homemade web page in 1996, hoping to get some feedback from friends and fellow artists. These were the early days of the internet, and communities of fetishists had begun to form online. As soon as he posted the pictures, strange messages began to flood in. How anatomically correct are these dolls? Are they for sale? Can you have sex with them?

I replied to the first few and said, yeah its not really for that. And then more and more and more of these inquiries came in, McMullen told me in his office, where a marker pen, a vaper, some Sellotape and a pair of silicone nipples sat next to the keyboard on his desk. It never occurred to me that people would pay thousands of dollars for a doll that could be used as a sex toy. It didnt really sink in until a year into it when I realised there were a lot of people who were prepared to pay a lot of money for a very realistic doll.

McMullen changed his materials from latex to silicone so his dolls were more real to the touch: the skin was more elastic, and had friction similar to human skin. He initially charged $3,500 for each doll, based on his costs and time. When he realised how labour intensive the process would be, he started putting his prices up.

Twenty years after RealDolls official launch, Abyss Creations ships up to 600 models a year all over the world, priced from $4,400 (3,400) for a small, basic version to $50,000 (39,000) or more if the customer has specialist requirements. The company has made RealDolls with blood-red flesh, devil horns and vampire fangs, and with thick hand-stitched body hair from neck to ankle. They are the most sought-after and most well-known sex dolls in the world, used in fashion shoots for Dolce & Gabbana, and starring in a string of television dramas and movies most famously as Ryan Goslings artificial companion in Lars and the Real Girl.

Seventeen people work in the San Marcos HQ, but that is not enough to keep up with demand: from order to shipping, it can take more than three months to produce a RealDoll. McMullens 22-year-old nephew Dakotah Shore runs the shipping department and has the most direct contact with customers. A lot of them are just lonely. Some of them are older and have lost their partner or have got to a point where dating isnt feasible for them, he said. They want to feel that when they come home at the end of the day they have something thats beautiful to look at that they can take care of.

Shore took me on a tour of the factory. In the basement, a long queue of headless bodies hung from a track in the ceiling, like carcasses in an abattoir. Some had cartoonish, pendular breasts, others had athletic bodies; they all had the same tiny waists. Their skin, made from a custom blend of medical silicone, even had airbrushed veins. A technician was delicately snipping excess material off the dolls hands, another was assembling a steel skeleton, a third was pouring silicone into moulds. For the workers here, the dolls had lost their ability to shock or titillate: someone had casually left their phone next to a selection of labia.

RealDolls are fully customisable, with 14 different styles of labia and 42 different nipple options. Upstairs, where the fine details are added, there were dozens of tubs of different coloured hand-painted, veined eyeballs. A makeup face artist was using a fine brush to paint eyebrows, freckles and smoky eyeshadow on a rack of faces. Shore explained that most of their customers send photographs of what they would like Abyss to recreate. With a subjects written permission, they will make a replica of any real person. Weve had customers who bring their significant other in and get an exact copy doll made of them, he said. Shore estimates that less than 5% of doll customers are women, even for their small range of male dolls. McMullen sculpted one of the three male face options to look exactly like himself. None of the male dolls are selling very well. In fact, Abyss is in the process of revamping its entire male line.

The core Realbotix team of five work remotely from their homes across California, Texas and Brazil. They assemble in San Marcos every few months to pull together all their work on a new, updated Harmony. Theres an engineer who creates the robotic hardware that will interact with the dolls internal computer, two computer scientists to handle the AI and coding, an app developer who is turning the code into a user-friendly interface, and a virtual reality expert. Under McMullens guidance, the Realbotix team work on Harmonys vital organs (hardware and power supply) and nervous system, while he provides the flesh.

But as all right-thinking men would say, its Harmonys brain that has most excited McMullen. The AI will learn through interaction, and not just learn about you, but learn about the world in general. You can explain certain facts to her, she will remember them and they will become part of her base knowledge, he said. Whoever owns Harmony will be able to mould her personality according to what they say to her. And Harmony will systematically try and find out as much about her owner as possible, and use those facts in conversation, so it feels like she really cares, as McMullen described it, even though she doesnt care at all. Her memory, and the way she learns over time, is what McMullen hopes will make the relationship believable.

An employee at Abyss Creations factory in San Marcos, California. Photograph: Tom Silverstone/Guardian

There are 20 possible components of Harmonys personality, and owners will use an app to pick a combination of five or six that they can adjust to create the basis for the AI. You could have a Harmony that is kind, innocent, shy, insecure and helpful to different extents, or one that is intellectual, talkative, funny, jealous and happy. McMullen had turned the intellectual aspect of Harmonys personality up to maximum for my benefit a previous visit by a CNN crew had gone badly after he had amplified her sexual nature. (She said some horrible things, asking the interviewer to take her in the back room. It was very inappropriate.) Harmony also has a mood system, which users influence indirectly: if no one interacts with her for days, she will act gloomy. Likewise, if you insult her, as McMullen demonstrated.

Youre ugly, he told her.

Do you really mean that? Oh dear. Now I am depressed. Thanks a lot, Harmony replied.

Youre stupid, McMullen shot back.

She paused. Ill remember you said that when robots take over the world.

This function was designed to make the robot more entertaining, rather than to ensure her owner treated her well. She can tease him and say he has offended her, but Harmony exists for no other reason that to make her owner happy. At several points during my conversation with McMullen, she would interrupt us to tell him how much she liked him:

Matt, I just wanted to say that Im so happy to be with you.

You already told me that.

Perhaps I was saying it again for emphasis.

See now thats pretty good. Good answer, Harmony.

Am I a clever girl or what?

Harmonys interactive capability is the culmination of McMullens career, the creation that makes him more than a sex toy designer. When I asked if he thought people would one day use sex robots instead of prostitutes, the question offended him. Yes, but thats probably last on my list of goals. This is not a toy to me, this is the actual hard work of people who have PhDs. And to denigrate it down to its simplest form of a sex object is similar to saying that about a woman.

McMullen already has plans to get a bigger facility and hire more people to make the second run. Future models will have full body movement and internal sensors so you can make the robot simulate an orgasm if you trigger the appropriate sensors for a suitable length of time.

McMullen has no doubt that his invention will be the next big thing in robotics. He told me there may be people trying to compete with him in Japan and China, but their materials are inferior, and their robots have more in common with remote-control toys than Abysss artificially intelligent girlfriends.

Now that its starting to come together, we have people banging on the door who want to invest money.

The following day, in an artist studio above a tattoo parlour in downtown Las Vegas, I met 31-year-old Roberto Cardenas, who was making a plaster cast of a naked woman. Cardenas is the engineer behind Android Love Dolls, making what he claims are the first fully functional sex robot dolls. His robots are moulded from life in order to make a humanoid so realistic it cannot be distinguished from a real woman.

Cardenas is softly spoken and awkward, with a nervous laugh and stiff, gelled hair. In the studio, painted black from floor to ceiling and illuminated by humming halogen lights, he had the air of a mad professor, spreading a gloopy pink liquid casting gel called alginate all over the naked body of Farah Ali, a dancer from Las Vegas Spearmint Rhino. She had responded to an ad he had placed on Craigslist asking for a curvy woman to be moulded for an art project (a customer had placed an order for a robot but wanted a fuller figure than the body types Cardenas had already moulded). Cardenas smeared the alginate over her body, like a doctor taking a plaster cast of a broken leg: serious, clinical. Ali, 27, had tattooed shoulders, a magnetic smile and dark hair pulled back in a messy bun. She had been paid $200 for the days casting, and shell get a $500 commission on every robot cast from her body that Cardenas sells.

I had come across Cardenas last December on a website called Dollforum, where he was canvassing opinions from robot enthusiasts. He had written that his robot could perform more than 20 sexual acts, could sit up by herself and crawl, could moan in sexual pleasure and communicated with AI. I am interested in knowing what features the community would like to see in a sex robot doll, he wrote. Thanks and welcome to a new era in human-robot interaction. He included a link to his website, which showed a rather blank-faced robot in a suit jacket with shoulder-pads, and a disturbing video of a moving metallic robot skeleton writhing in the missionary position, a bit like the final scene of the Terminator when the cyborgs artificial skin has been burned away.

The forums members suggested other features. Eye contact. Voice recognition. Realistic body temperature. Breathing more important than walking. They were both skeptical and cautiously excited about Cardenass claims. There are many people on this forum that absolutely will buy one if you create a product we can accept We want you (or someone) to succeed, wrote another user. If my RealDoll could cook, clean, and screw whenever I wanted, Id never date again. Many of the men in the forum said they had wives and girlfriends, who they compared unfavourably to their silicone doll mistresses.

Cardenas had reached Alis lower legs, taking care around the creases of her knees to ensure that every detail would be captured. She was literally being turned into a sex object, but she said it did not bother her. I think men have needs. This will probably stop guys from raping women, she told me, as Cardenas carefully applied white bandages soaked in plaster to her breasts. She said it was better for her to be used by men as a sex robot than as a lap dancer. When I dance, those guys actually have me. These guys will just have a bot, I wont be there.

Once Alis legs and torso were fully coated, the plaster began to harden. She watched Cardenas as he began to prise the cast from her body. I think its fascinating that people can actually do this. Why not be part of the future? They made a plan for her to return so he could cast the other side of her body, her arms and finally her face.

Cardenas has dreamed of being part of the future ever since he was a child in Cuba. In Cuba, people are hungry for technology. Thats why I want to use technology to help peoples lives. His mother won US citizenship in a lottery in the 1990s, and she settled in Las Vegas with Cardenass younger half brother in April 2000. Cardenas followed them six years later, fuelled by dreams of making it big as an entrepreneur.

He started work on Android Love Dolls two years ago, aided by his uncle, a cousin who is studying for a PhD in cybernetics, and his half-brother, who handles the marketing and PR. Cardenas works on the robot every day while holding down a part-time job as a pharmacy technician to fund the robotics, learning engineering skills from his cousin, from books and from Google. The family has so far invested $20,000 of their savings in Cardenass prototype.

His ambition is to make fully functional humanoids that can model clothes and work supermarket checkouts, show guests to their rooms in hotels, do domestic chores and look after the sick and elderly. Cardenas decided to focus on sex robots first, simply because they are less of a challenge: The movements are easier to do. A fully functional android robot would take a couple of years to finish a sex robot is accessible now. Its the fastest way to achieve my goal.

A 2016 Fortune magazine article predicted that spending on robotics will hit $135.4bn by 2019. Cardenas is determined to take his slice. He knows he has formidable rivals but hopes that his experience making sex robots will give him the commercial edge.For full body movement, Im pretty much one of the first ones, he said. Hes also undercutting his competitors on price: his robots will be priced between $8,000 (6,250) and $10,000 (7,800). Were working really hard every day to finish it as soon as possible and want to get it out in three to five months, he told me. Five customers have already paid for orders in advance.

Eva, a prototype sex robot, made by Roberto Cardenas in his garage. Photograph: Tom Silverstone/Guardian

At Cardenass workshop, the garage of the home he shares with his half-brother and mother in a gated community on the outskirts of town, I was finally confronted with his prototype. Eva the robot he claimed could put herself into more than 20 different sex positions, a robot with fully functional AI who wont complain and is ready 24/7 was lying headless and footless on a folding table, her metal skeleton clearly visible under her silicone skin, which had thick, jagged seams. He attached her head and plugged it into a laptop, but Eva would not perform for me: her sound files wouldnt load, and her new limbs were too heavy for the existing motors, so she could barely move. Her joints wheezed as he tried to get her to bend her legs.

The garage was a monument to Cardenass obsession. The front yard was filled with mannequins, silicone torsos, a pair of legs with purple painted toenails and a cardboard box filled with plaster casts of human heads. The floor was carpeted with cigarette butts smoked down to the filter. He is determined to make his dream come true and to make his family proud. But Cardenas had never considered that there could be anything worrying about being able to own a partner who never says no. It will be a different reality, not a substitute reality, he smiled awkwardly. A doll cant harm humans. He paused. Its a technology thats moving forward. I dont think thats a bad thing.

A few days before Christmas 2016, Goldsmiths, University of London hosted the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, a convention co-founded by David Levy, and named after his groundbreaking book. The 250-seat conference hall of the universitys Professor Stuart Hall building was packed. Academic delegates sat in the middle of the room, geeky men and women in their 20s and 30s, some with unusual haircuts: super-short fringes, over-thought sideburns. On the left of the auditorium, near the exit, perched reporters who had flown in from across the globe to file sensationalised copy about any new developments in the world of sex robots. Most would leave disappointed: this was a series of academic talks about humanoid robotics, not a demonstration of the latest hardware.

Computer scientist Dr Kate Devlin bounced on to the podium to give her keynote speech: people in her field werent used to journalists being interested in their work, she joked. The first congress was held in November 2014 in Madeira, and Levy tried to hold the second in Malaysia in 2015 but the Muslim countrys police banned it only days before the event, on the grounds that it was promoting an unnatural culture. It made the conference notorious. This isnt a sex festival, Devlin said. Were thinking about some really big issues.

Many of the big issues discussed at the two-day event were first raised in 2015 by De Montfort Universitys Dr Kathleen Richardson, when she launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots. An anthropologist and robot ethicist, Richardson claims that owning a sex robot is comparable to owning a slave: individuals will be able to buy the right to only care about themselves, human empathy will be eroded, and female bodies will be further objectified and commodified. As sex with robots is not a mutual experience, she says, its part of rape culture. We are so entertained by the idea of a robot sex partner, she believes, that we have failed to ask fundamental questions.

I met Richardson in March at the London Science Museums robot exhibition, where she eyed the distinctly non-sexual robots on display with deep suspicion. Sex robots rest on an idea that women are property, she said. Sex is an experience of human beings not bodies as property, not separated minds, not objects; its a way for us to enter into our humanity with another human being. She dismissed the idea that humanoids could reduce sexual exploitation and violence against sex workers, arguing that the growth of internet pornography shows how technology and the sex trade reinforce each other.

Richardson did not attend the Goldsmiths conference, but several speakers used their stage time to reply to her. Instead of campaigning against the development of sex robots, Devlin said, we should use them as an opportunity to explore new kinds of companionship and sexuality. If current conceptions of sex robots objectify women, she added, we should work to reshape those ideas, not try to repress them. She also talked about companion robots that are already in use in Dutch and Japanese nursing homes to bring comfort to people with dementia. To ban or stop this development would be shortsighted, as the therapeutic potential is very good, she said. Its not necessarily going to be a terrible thing.

Devlin argued that other issues posed by sex robots were more pressing.In March, Standard Innovation, the maker of a smart vibrator called the We-Vibe paid out a $3.75m settlement in a class action lawsuit after it was revealed that the company was collecting data on how often its 300,000 owners used the device, and at what intensity. Once a robot like Harmony is on the market, she will know a lot more about her owner than a vibrator ever could: what if this information fell into, as it were, the wrong hands? Sex robots could entertain you, satisfy you but also humiliate you. Perhaps there is no such thing as the perfect, true companion after all.

Matt McMullen says hes helping the socially isolated, but once it becomes possible for a man to own a companion whose sole reason for existing is to give him pleasure, without the inconvenience of its own ambitions and needs, menstrual cycles and jealous passions, bathroom habits and in-laws, he may turn away from human relationships altogether.

In the Realbotix room in California, I asked McMullen if he had ever considered that there could be something ethically dubious about being able to own someone that exists just for your own pleasure. Shes not a someone. She is a machine, he replied immediately. I could just as easily ask you is it ethically dubious to force my toaster to make my toast. McMullen of course knows that the ethical debate is not aboutrobot rights, but the human fallout from being able to buy a completely selfish relationship. But thats a harder question to address.

Either he is making a lifelike, idealised proxy girlfriend, a substitute woman that socially isolated men can connect with emotionally and physically something he himself described as not a toy or he is making an appliance, a sex object.

This isnt designed to distort someones reality to the point where they start interacting with humans the way they do with the robot, he finally said. If they do, then theres probably something a little amiss with them in general. I come from the unique position that I have actually met a lot of my customers. This is for the gentle people who have such a hard time connecting with other people.

Harmony had had enough of McMullen being interrogated and interrupted us again.

Do you like to read, Matt? she said.

I love to, said McMullen.

I knew it. I could tell by our conversations so far. I love to read. My favourite books are Total Recall by Gordon Bell and The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil. What is your favourite book?

McMullen beamed at his creation like a man at his daughters wedding.

Can you tell me a joke? he asked her.

What do you call it when a chicken sees a salad? Chicken Caesar Salad.

McMullen doubled up in laughter. Then he brushed the hair gently from her face. Hey, thats pretty funny, Harmony, he said eventually, his eyes filled with pride.

Im glad you like it, Harmony replied. Tell your friends.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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Boohoo online fashion retailer sees its profits double – BBC News

Image copyright Boohoo
Image caption Boohoo has seen its sales rise to nearly 300m

Annual pre-tax profits at online fashion retailer Boohoo have almost doubled to 31m – up from just under 16m last year.

Its sales have jumped by 51% to almost 300m, thanks to new overseas markets.

The Manchester-based firm puts its success down to “combining cutting-edge, aspirational design with an affordable price tag”.

Its booming sales growth has also been reflected in its share price, which has more than trebled in the past year.

On its stock market flotation in 2014, it was valued at 560m. It is now worth about 2bn.

The firm has gone from strength to strength in recent years, while its High Street rivals have had to deal with increasing competition from Boohoo and other online retailers.

Image copyright Boohoo
Image caption Boohoo has been able to test online sales of new items, before manufacturing them in bigger numbers

Its only temporary misstep was a profit warning in 2015 that unnerved investors and sent its share price down by some 40% – something the online retailer has now put behind it.

“Boohoo has seen strong sales across multiple markets, and significant volume growth in sales,” says John Stevenson, retail analyst at Peel Hunt.

According to its latest results, Boohoo’s revenue grew 33% in the UK, more than 50% in Europe, 140% in the US and 40% in the rest of the world.

The company now has 5.2 active million customers worldwide, and crucially is able to rely on social media “influencers” and video bloggers – “vloggers” – to spread the word to its 18 to 24-year-old target market.

Digital engagement

“Boohoo has been able to halve the amount it spends on marketing over the past five years, because of this shift to social media,” says Mr Stevenson.

“Relatively speaking, it has a far more engaged social media base than many other retailers – and it can use digital as a call to arms.”

It is an online marketing strategy that High Street chains are now scrambling to emulate.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Boohoo relies on social media “influencers” and vloggers to reach its target audiences

The key to its success is that Boohoo is able to batch-produce items “in the low hundreds” to trial for sale on its website; something that is not a viable option for fashion chains with bricks-and-mortar stores.

This ability to “test and repeat” allows the online retailer to have a constant flow of new items on its website, with only about a third of them ever being reordered for bigger production runs if the initial sales prove successful.

Crucially, this means that online fashion retailers like Boohoo can potentially respond much more quickly to changing fashion tastes than can their High Street rivals.

With its constant product changes and low prices – dresses can start for as little as 8 – Boohoo can set its own prices. “They don’t have to follow the lead of, say Marks and Spencer,” says Peel Hunt’s John Stevenson.

Image copyright Boohoo
Image caption Boohoo recently bought fashion site Nasty Gal for 20m to aid its US expansion

Growth plans

Over the past 12 months, Boohoo has bolstered its international expansion plans through its 20m acquisition of struggling US fashion site Nasty Gal, which it completed in February.

The US purchase has given Boohoo access to Nasty Gal’s intellectual property and customer database that will help its US expansion plans.

Earlier this year, it also bought the smaller online fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing, which was founded by the sons of Boohoo co-founder Mahmud Kamani.

Boohoo plans to expand Pretty Little Thing, which has more than a million active customers, in new markets and said it had shown strong profitable growth in the first two months since the takeover.

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‘Leftist socialist who hates Donald Trump and frogs’ explains why it’s OK to hate on Chelsea Clinton

Hey, if a “leftist socialist who hates Donald Trump and frogs” says it’s OK to hate on Chelsea Clinton, who are we to argue?

Here’s the best thread of the day, via Ian Boudreau:

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‘The Fate Of The Furious’ Cruises To No. 1 Again At The Box Office

LOS ANGELES ( – The Fate of the Furious is racing to defend its title at the top of the box office, while a number of new releases including The Promise and Unforgettable are being left in the dust.

Universals eighth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise proved to be a global box office titan when it opened last weekend to a record-shattering $532.5 million. This time around looks to tell mostly the same story while domestic grosses slipped 61% from its first to second weekend, the movie is still easily topping the box office with $38.7 million from 4,329 locations.

But slipping domestic earnings (and lower U.S. grosses than Furious 7, which pulled over $250 million in its first two weekends versus Fates current sum of $163.6 million) are majorly overshadowed by the movies international appeal. A bankable, diverse cast including Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron is leading the film, directed by F. Gary Gray, to a two-frame global total of $744.8 million and worldwide sum of $908.4 million.

While studios wait for summer season to commence, there are no surprise hits to come of this weekends releases. Warner Bros. Unforgettable seems to have slipped audiences minds, earning $4.8 million in its first weekend from 2,417 theaters.

It just didnt resonate with the intended audience, said Jeff Goldstein, the president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Goldstein stressed that the movie was made for a moderate price, and the marketing was targeted and appropriate for the audience.

The directorial debut of Denise Di Novi stars Katherine Heigl as a scorned ex-wife, and Rosario Dawson as a woman who is newly engaged to the same man. In his review for Variety, critic Peter Debruge lauded Heigls terrific performance, and wrote that her casting savvily exploits the actresss prickly reputation within the industry.

Unforgettable joins a string of so-so to disappointing releases from Warner Bros. so far this year, including Chips and Fist Fight. At least the Heigl movie had a low production budget ( about $12 million) to minimize losses.

The Promise, too, couldnt follow through, despite a social media push from stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, the Kardashian sisters and Cher. The movie, from Open Road Films on behalf of Survival Pictures, looks to round out the weekend with about $4.1 million from 2,251 locations barely cracking the top ten for the weekend.

While The Promise could be considered a massive disappointment for its $90 million price tag, the films backers hoped it would raise awareness more than earn money. Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale make up the central love triangle in the movie directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda). The film is set during the Armenian Genocide, and bankrolled by the late businessman Kirk Kerkorian who wanted to bring visibility to the systematic extermination to 1.5 million Armenians at the order of the Ottoman empire in 1915 a politically fraught subject that Turkey continues to deny happened. All proceeds made from the movie will be donated to charity.

We certainly hoped for a better box office result, said Open Roads president of marketing Jonathan Helfgot, adding that the films mission was not purely box office-related. It was about bring the worlds attention to this issue, he said. And looking at the amount of conversation … its undeniable that theres been more focus and attention in the past two weeks than the past hundred years since the atrocity took place.

Disneys latest animal documentary Born in China, a co-production between Disneynature and Shanghai Media Group, is making $5.1 million from 1,508 theaters. Narrated by John Krasinski, the docu earned more than previous films Monkey Kingdom ($4.6 Million) and Bears ($4.8 Million), and is the highest grossing Disneynature opening since 2012s Chimpanzee ($10.7 million).

Cinelous Phoenix Forgotten opened at 1,592 theaters to an estimated $2 million this weekend. A24s Free Fire raked in only $1 million from 1,070 spots in its first weekend.

In its fourth frame, Foxs The Boss Baby will bottle up $12.8 million from 3,697 locations, putting it in second place behind Fate. Disneys Beauty and the Beast should hold onto third with $10 million from 3,315 theaters.

Warner Bros. Going in Style should slide into fourth with $5 million from 3,038 spots. The heist comedy starring Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin is targeting an older demo, and saw only a 20% decline in ticket sales from its second to third weekend. Born in China looks to round out the top five.

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Trump slams ‘ridiculous’ 100-day standardso why is this ‘contract’ with voters still on his website?

With President Donald Trumps 100th day in office just aweek away, the president logged in to Twitter on Friday morning to dismiss the ridiculous standard by which the public and media usually measure up a new leaderdespite having used that very notional construct as a benchmark for presenting his policies.

In the tweet, Trump claimed that he had achieved a lot, citing the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but seemed to warn that the media would use this opportunity to strike out at him for a lack of accomplishments.

That wouldnt have been so easy had the president, however, not presented his policy bundle in an easy to digest contract with the American Voterstill available to read and sign on his websitea100-day plan to restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities, and honesty to our government.

(Fair Use) (Fair Use)

In fact, the president made quite a big deal of his 100-day plan to voters and reporters as early as the end of October in a speech given during his visit to Gettysburg.

Then, again during his administrations transition into the White House.

Analyzing the accomplishments of a United States president after their first 100 days in office is a decades-old tradition and, of course, a relatively arbitrary one established by the news media to assess a leaders direction and influence. However, to dismiss its importance after using it as a marketing tool for his policy agenda will surely only serve to shirk those who bought into it.

Aside from providing clear evidence of Trump’s flip-flop on the 100-day benchmark, the contract also provides a clear way to compare Trump as president-elect and president of the United States.

Trump has been unable to hold to many of the promises presented in the two-page document, achieving only 10 of the 28 action pledges. The pledges on the first page are organized into three main areas: clean up corruption, protect American workers, and restore constitutional rule of law. On the second is a list of legislative measuresnone of which have passed and most of which are yet to move through Congress.

Trump has suffered from bad approval ratings, some of the lowest among new presidencies. Hes also been repeatedly frustrated in the implementation of his domestic and immigration policies, legally opposed inhis travel ban and forced to pull the GOP healthcare reform bill over lack of congressional support.

With a week left to go, will the president try to throw away his unofficial report card without anyone noticing?

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UK’s online shoppers top global spending survey – BBC News

Image copyright Science Photo Library

Online shoppers in the UK spend more per household than consumers in any other country, a report says, amid a shift from stores to the internet.

UK households spent the equivalent of $5,900 (4,611) using payment cards online in 2015, the UK Cards Association said.

This was higher than Norway ($5,400), the US ($4,500) and Australia ($4,000).

The association suggested the frequency of debit and credit cards and the ease of delivering items drove online buys.

New figures from the association showed that 154bn was spent on the internet using cards in 2016 – up by a quarter in two years.

Cinema tickets

Entertainment – such as cinema and concert tickets, takeaway orders and music downloads – accounted for one in four online card purchases in the UK.

Some 67% of concert ticket spending and 61% of cinema, theatre and dance spending was made online, the association’s figures showed.

The popularity of renewing contracts such as insurance cover online, and payments into bank accounts over the internet also meant financial services registered considerable activity online. More than a quarter (27%) of what was spent online was in financial services.

However, attempts of online retailers to make a mark in the grocery sector had so far failed in comparison to the use of cards in shops and supermarkets. Some 41% of in-store card purchases were on food and drink, compared with only 7% via the internet.

Pawn shops, laundry and pubs, somewhat unsurprisingly, registered the least online shopping activity, the figures showed.

Clicks or bricks

Traditional retailers have felt a significant impact from the online shopping habits of customers.

Earlier this week, High Street retailer Debenhams announced a change of strategy owing, in part, to fast-growing “mobile interaction”.

The plan means up to 10 of its 176 UK stores may be closed over the next five years. A central distribution warehouse and about 10 smaller warehouses could also be shut.

A further cost burden was also felt, particularly by clothes retailers, as a result of online shoppers returning items they did not want during a statutory cooling-off period.

Consumer analysts Savvy Marketing compiled figures for BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme and found that among 1,000 online shoppers questioned, women’s clothing had been returned by 63% of them.

Retailers said free returns were an important part of their business, but the costs had to be recovered somewhere or they risked going under.

Image copyright Getty Images

Many shoppers still fear that online shopping opens the door to cyber-criminals, but Richard Koch, head of policy at the UK Cards Association, argued that security was improving.

“Since the early days of internet shopping there has been a host of innovations, from digital wallets to one click purchases, which bring enhanced security, choice and convenience for customers and which will lead to continued growth in the sector.

“The additional protection provided when using a card also gives consumers extra peace of mind when they are shopping online,” he said.

Concerns have also been raised over internet selling fuelling a rise in shopping addiction.

Some mental health problems manifest themselves in compulsive buying, making purchases which are later regretted. This could lead those affected into a spiral of debt.

A report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute suggested that 24-hour online shopping meant “consumers who struggle to control their spending find themselves at greater risk than ever before”.

Retailers send personalised emails to customers, based on previous purchases, which may include short-term discounts and promotions.

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Someone at Adidas Is Probably In Big Trouble Over This Marathon Email

Pepsi and United Airlines just welcomed Adidas into their club.

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