What happens when you spend big on a robotic (or otherwise artificial) romantic companion for life, but they stop speaking to you because their tech support has expired?
That was the predicament faced by Akihiko Kondo: a Japanese man who fell in love with a speaking hologram, had an unofficial marriage to it, but is now unable to properly chat to his artificial partner.
Recent reports about the plight of Kondo, who lives in suburban Tokyo, have highlighted the concept of the ‘fictosexual’: a person who is sexually attracted to fictional characters. They have also raised the spectre of a technical support issue that some who have invested huge amounts in synthetic companions may not have considered.
In 2018, Kondo held an unofficial marriage to Hatsune Miku: a cutesy manga-style female fictional character who has blue hair and is supposed to be 16 years old. Kondo said he had been ‘dating’ Miku for ten years before the marriage-style ceremony, which derived from a marketing wheeze by a Tokyo startup company called Gatebox.
Gatebox created a product that projected cartoony hologram characters that could hold conversations with their owner, with Miku being one of the characters available to interact with through the device. Kondo fell head over heels for the hologram, supplementing the device with huge doll versions of Miku that he kept in his apartment.
To help market their hologram product, Gatebox organized wedding-style ceremonies and issued unofficial marriage certificates to people wanting to get hitched to one of the characters. According to the company, Kondo was one of at least 3,700 people who took up the offer.
When Kondo proposed to the hologram it reportedly replied: “I hope you’ll cherish me”.
He did indeed cherish her. In 2019 Kondo told the BBC: “There are two reasons why I had a wedding publicly. The first one is to prove my love to Miku. The second one is there are many young otaku people like me falling in love with anime characters. I want to show the world that I support them.”
According to Japanese newspaper The Mainichi, Kondo said that he had been socially withdrawn and had been treated badly by women he interacted with in the past. He said that when he forged his ‘relationship’ with Miku, he felt ready to interact with the wider world once more.
However, not long after the marriage, Gatebox wound down technical support for its hologram product, which retailed at the equivalent of $1,300. The company said the product had run its course, leading to its conversation function not being fully operational. Kondo could no longer talk to his ‘wife’ as he’d like to.
While there has been much tabloid jest about the unorthodox lifestyle Kondo adopted, his Gatebox issue raised a potential technical problem that others investing in companion devices might consider.
Increasingly, sex robots are being marketed as ‘companions’ rather than pure physical sex objects, suggesting that they could be bought for a lifetime’s use.
Companies such as Abyss Creations, makers of the RealDoll, considered a market leader, appear to have relatively stable footings in the industry, but many sex doll companies are young and do not have large customer bases in what is still a nascent sector. Will they still be around in a decade, when the artificial intelligence (AI) of the $10,000 sex robot you bought as a companion needs re-tuning?
Kondo seems to have pushed through this technical problem for now, and in April 2022 was still blissfully posting photos of him and his doll effigies of Miku.
As is the case for many marriages, they’ve stuck together despite running out of things to talk about.
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